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Film Review: CODA has inspired me to learn sign language

A still image from the film CODA featuring the family sitting in the back of a truck. This is a screenshot from the official website.
A still image from the film CODA featuring the family sitting in the back of a truck. This is a screenshot from the official website.

Lydia Walker
Oxford Stories
llwalker@go.olemiss.edu

While the 49th annual Oscars were most memorable for the dramatic events that took place on stage, it’s worth reminding film fans that the Best Picture winner was an Apple TV original movie called “CODA.”

CODA stands for “child of deaf adults,” the central theme of the film. CODA is historic in many ways. It is the first movie with a mostly deaf cast to win Best Picture.

Also, Troy Kotsur, one of the main actors, was the first deaf male actor to win an Academy Award. Director, Siân Heder won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Apple became the first streaming service to win the Best Picture Oscar. 

CODA has an important message about inclusivity. The main character, Ruby Rossi, is the only hearing individual in her family. Both of her parents and older brother are deaf. Throughout the film, Ruby struggles with her obligation to her family and what she really wants in life, which is to attend Berklee College of Music to pursue a career in singing.

Ruby acts as the interpreter for her family and helps them with everyday tasks that many hearing people take for granted. Her family relies on her to help with their fishing business, especially when it comes to negotiating prices, listening for trouble on the water, and interacting with others.

A picture from the film CODA of two of the characters sitting in the back of a truck.
A picture from the film CODA of two of the characters sitting in the back of a truck.

Ruby is put in the middle when she has to choose between staying in her hometown and helping her parents run their business or auditioning for a position at Berklee. She is often frustrated with her parents for not considering her wishes. 

This film does a good job of portraying what it is like for a family that deals with a disability. Ruby’s family members feel like outcasts in their community because no one can communicate with them. The town members where the Rossis live look down on the family for keeping to themselves and being different.

In contrast, Ruby feels like an outsider in her own family because she is the only one who is able to hear. She cannot explain her love for singing to her family or showcase her talent because they will never be able to hear her.

Ruby deals with peers judging her, making fun of her for signing, and for her family’s antics. Her resentment stems from her family wanting her to stay and work for their business, and because they cannot understand her passion and love for singing.

The film shows how a disability inside a family unit can be all-encompassing. Ruby’s problems and desires were generally swept under the rug because her family’s disabilities overshadow them.

Ruby finds her voice through the help of one of her classmates and her music teacher. Her teacher pushes her out of her comfort zone and forces her to focus on her own wants and needs. 

“CODA” is different than any other film I have watched because the majority of the picture was in sign language. Because of this, I was forced to watch closely and pay attention to what was being signed.

The film showcases, in a small way, what it is like for a deaf person in a hearing world. Watching this movie made me realize how much I take for granted the fact that I can hear what is going on in the world around me.

Many of the scenes portrayed how dangerous it is for people who are deaf out in the real world, and it really opened my eyes to how much inclusivity is still needed today when it comes to those who are hearing impaired. 

One of the most important and pivotal scenes of the film was during Ruby’s choir concert at her school. Her parents and brother attended the concert, but where not able to hear any of the songs being sung. Obviously, they become distracted sitting in silence.

During the scene, the music and noise from the concert turns off, and the viewer is left sitting in silence just like the Rossis are. The scene was quite jarring and unexpected, but I feel like it was so important to include in the film.

Getting a taste of what it is like to be hearing impaired inspired me to want to help the deaf community, even if it is in some small way. It was necessary to force people to “be deaf,” even if only for a minute, so the audience could understand what hearing impaired people have dealt with their whole lives. 

This movie opened the door for other deaf actors and actresses to be taken seriously in the film industry. It is time someone made a movie about a common disability and how it can shape and bring families together.

Showcasing a family who is hearing impaired allows viewers to become more accepting, willing to learn, and more considerate of others who differ from them. Watching CODA definitely pushed me to want to learn sign language, and I hope it does the same to others who watched. 

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