REVIEW: CODA, breaking silence on deaf stories

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Photo by Lily Werner (elizabeth.werner@marquette.edu)

“CODA” won the Oscar for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The film CODA created many firsts this Oscar season. It was the first movie to screen at the Sundance Film Festival before winning an Oscar, the first movie from a streaming service to win the award. Also, actor Troy Kotsur, who plays the father in the film, was the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. When watching the film, you understand why this film was able to not only make all of these milestones, but lead many Americans to sign up for sign-language classes after the films release.

The film revolves around the family of a high school girl, Ruby – the only person in her family of four who can hear. This leads her to take on a large familial role, helping her parents with their fishing business before school every morning. When she signs up for choir class on a whim, she has to try and decide between her role in her family and her passion for music.

This movie switched between silence and music and talking, with the majority of the family scenes being done in silence as soft whispers of water or crickets could be heard. It was truly unlike anything I had ever seen. They really played into this during one of Ruby’s vocal recitals in the film. The camera pans to the father and mother, Frank and Jackie, in the audience and the sound completely cuts out. You can see as Frank looks around the audience to look at their reactions to his daughter in order to tell how well she is performing. The irony of a deaf family having a daughter who loves to sing truly tugs at the heartstrings as they can never truly know how talented their daughter is.

Where the film lacked was the clichés that came along with it. Though there were struggles, many unrealistic elements came into play that made it seem too much like a perfect high-school story and took away from the struggles of the deaf family members and the importance of their story. For example,Ruby just so happens to be a great vocalist, gets into the dream school after her audition where her music teacher comes to the rescue at the last minute, gets her dream guy and is able to go to college. Though the happy ending does give the film a hopeful tone, it leaves many questions unanswered about how the family will survive without their Ruby as an interpreter to help them.

Other than this, I think that the movie deserved the best picture Oscar entirely. It tells a story that so often is left untold in all the right ways. This began with hiring deaf actors to play the roles of the deaf family members. This is the kind of representation that is so often forgotten about in Hollywood. This made the performance not only more real, but also more inspiring for young aspiring  artists who are deaf. Furthermore, the actress that played Ruby, Emilia Jones, was able to act perfectly as she signed, something she learned for the role. Watching her interact with the family just felt so natural, you never questioned the fact that she had never signed before this film.

The film overall is definitely one that everyone should watch, not just because it’s entertaining, but because it truly puts you into the shoes of someone else in such an authentic way. If you have a chance, give the film a watch and a listen. Reading the subtitles is worth it.

I would give the film a three out of five stars.

This story was written by Anna Houston. She can be reached at anna.houston@marquette.edu.