BY Christi Carras, The Los Angeles Times
In a major triumph for Deaf representation in Hollywood, the ensemble of “CODA” clinched the top prize Sunday at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
After receiving two SAG nominations, the heartwarming Apple TV+ dramedy about a child of Deaf adults (CODA) won them both, including the coveted award for performance by a cast in a motion picture. Unlike any previous SAG Award film ensemble winner, “CODA” centers on multiple Deaf characters portrayed by Deaf actors.
Directed by Sian Heder, the acclaimed family film stars Emilia Jones as a hearing teen raised by a Deaf mother (Marlee Matlin), father (Troy Kotsur) and older brother (Daniel Durant). Also nominated this year for film ensemble were “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “House of Gucci” and “King Richard.” Additionally, Kotsur made history Sunday as the first Deaf actor ever to receive an individual SAG Award for his supporting performance as tender-hearted fisherman Frank Rossi. He prevailed over hearing actors Ben Affleck (“The Tender Bar”), Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza”), Jared Leto (“House of Gucci”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Power of the Dog”).
Because SAG winners are crowned by their acting peers — who make up a sizable chunk of Oscars voters — the award for film ensemble has historically given best picture nominees a slight advantage leading up to the Academy Awards. “CODA” is Oscar-nominated for best picture this year alongside “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Drive My Car,” “Dune,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story.”
Kotsur also earned an Oscar nomination for supporting actor opposite Ciarán Hinds (“Belfast”), Jesse Plemons (“The Power of the Dog”), J.K. Simmons (“Being the Ricardos”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”). He became the first Deaf male actor to score an Oscar nomination more than 30 years after Matlin — his onscreen wife in “CODA” — became the first Deaf performer of any gender to receive an Oscar nomination, as well as the first Deaf actor to win an Academy Award, for her leading performance in “Children of a Lesser God.”
“I’m tired of Deaf people being portrayed as a victim,” Kotsur said recently in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“‘Oh, hearing people are here to help the poor Deaf person.’ This time, in this project, I just want to show some b—, some real Deaf b—, that hey, this character’s a tough guy, a Deaf male who struggles just like anyone else out there who owns a small business. The only thing that’s different is the method of communication.”
“CODA” previously made history when it premiered at the 2021 virtual Sundance Film Festival and took home four awards, including the audience award and top prize from the U.S. dramatic competition jury.
Matlin led the film’s ensemble in the acceptance speech and notes: “This validates the fact that we, Deaf actors, can work just like anybody else. We look forward to more opportunities for Deaf actors, Deaf culture.”
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