Unless cry Until the end of “CODA” we’re not sure what to do with you.
The film, written and directed by Siân Heder (“Tallulah”), is about 17-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones), the hearing child of deaf parents (Oscar winner) Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) caught between helping her family’s fledgling fish business in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and pursuing her vocal endeavors in college. It was on Thursday evening in Sundance Film Festival.
Driven by its strong inclusiveness of the deaf community, it’s a refreshing restart in traditional youth romance and the coming-of-age story. Think how “Love, Simon” gave the LGBTQ community their clichéd, cute teen movie. “CODA” – which stands for a child of deaf adult and which happens to be a musical term – asks you to rightly pay attention to deaf culture.
Matlin spoke in a post-premiere Q&A video of “the opportunity to work with other deaf actors and other actors who weren’t deaf and were learning sign language who were more than willing to open their minds”.
Audiences will be particularly impressed with Jones, who – spoiler alert – gives a breathtaking performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (while signing!) That leaves you breathless and text your mom.
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She had to learn sign language for the role, but you’d be fooled into thinking she already knew. “It was a great honor to learn sign language,” Jones said during the same Q&A. “I fell absolutely in love with this beautiful language. I kept learning it too.”
Sign language was obviously an integral part of the film, but it was also behind the camera. “There were no barriers on set,” Matlin said through an interpreter. “(Heder) really immersed himself in our culture and made every attempt to learn and work with us and have two sign language directors on set plus interpreters and the crew that learned our language, everyone worked together, it worked like any other set, but the sign language aspect made it very special. “
Heder added, “We signed on set when there were no deaf actors on set.”
Sign language was a crucial part of the comedy in the movie – especially when Ruby’s father tries to give his daughter a sex talk.
“It was dirtier and dirtier,” said Heder. “The signs became clearer and clearer. We all just died on the set.”
So what does Hollywood have to do to be more inclusive for the community and enable more films? “We need to hire more deaf actors. It’s that simple,” Matlin said, later adding that they should be men and women of all colors. It extends beyond actors to other behind the scenes places like directing, makeup, what do you have?
“There are so many stories that can be told,” she added. “All you have to do is show them, and they can include deaf characters. You don’t have to be deaf.”
Daniel Durant, who plays Ruby’s deaf brother, spoke through an interpreter about the importance of deaf writers. “I know so many deaf writers who are talented and they have amazing stories to tell,” he said.
Heder said deaf artists need funding to tell these stories and mentioned the importance of listening to people in order to learn.
“They want the community to be able to present themselves,” she said. “I would also say that as an outsider from the community, I made sure that I was the channel and that I brought people with me who knew better than me and could further educate myself along the way.”