Last night, during the Oscars – history was made (more than once) for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The Academy nominated Audible for best documentary short film, Troy Kotsur for Best Supporting Actor, and CODA for Best Picture. This sent a message to everyone that our stories matter, authenticity casting matters, and intentional recognition was due.
Before the Oscars started, the Deaf community tuned in and saw Deaf stars on the red carpet. Never before, in the Oscars’ red carpet history, have we seen so many Deaf and hard of hearing representation on screen. Deaf stars included Nyle DiMarco, Lauren Ridloff, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, Troy Kotsur, and Deanne Bray, among others.
To witness Troy Kotsur winning an Oscar was a powerful moment for all of us watching. Troy becomes only the second Deaf person to receive an Oscar, 35 years after Marlee Matlin received an award in 1987 for her role in Children of a Lesser God. Following Troy’s win, we watched CODA bring home the highest award possible in the film industry. CODA became the first film that touches upon Deaf Culture to win an Oscar for Best Picture. This historic achievement was a testament to the acting talents of Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, and Daniel Durant. This showed everyone that excellence lies in taking on a different persona to convincingly and powerfully convey a story rather than acting disabled. For too long, the industry has rewarded actors and directors who have exploited the trope of faking sympathetic disabilities to win awards for themselves without bringing in Deaf people or people with disabilities to ensure authenticity.
We also watched little yet big moments besides the awards. We saw commercials that highlighted sign language. We saw Youn Yuh-Jung signing Troy’s name before speaking it. We saw Amy Schumer signing to the CODA cast. We saw the most powerful recognition in the Deaf community in the history of any large scale event, a thundering ovation with everyone inside the Dolby Theater applauding the Deaf way.
Last night elevated the bar not only in Hollywood, but for the rest of us, outside. This is proof that sign language is here to stay.
TRANSCRIPT: What an incredible moment at the Oscars! We saw a lot of Deaf representation at the Oscars. First, the Academy nominated the most ever towards Deaf culture storylines – one for Audible and three for CODA. Then we were blown away that CODA won all three awards! We also had other Deaf Culture visibility during the Oscars such as commercials highlighting sign language, emcee Amy Schumer signing to the CODA cast and then signing “Good night” when wrapping up the Oscars at the end. Last year’s winner for Best Supporting Actress, Youn Yuh-Jung, signed, “Congratulations,” as she gave the award for Best Supporting Actor for this year to Troy Kotsur. We saw history in the making as Troy became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar! Troy shared a beautiful acceptance speech about his experience and journey getting there. Thank you Troy for your story. CODA became the first deaf film to receive the Best Picture award. Thanks to those involved with CODA for elevating deaf awareness, highlighting Deaf Culture for the world to see, especially for Hollywood. Troy is the second Deaf person to receive an Oscar. Thirty-five years ago, Marlee Matlin (who is also in CODA) won an award in 1987. Its been too long since then. It’s time to raise the bar and make sure that everyone knows that Deaf people can act. Deaf people can write. Deaf people can direct. Deaf people can produce. Deaf people can do anything behind the scenes. It’s time now, thanks to CODA for elevating this for all to see. We saw its impact. As Troy and CODA won their respective awards, everyone in the audience applauded the Deaf way. They understand now that Deaf people can. This was a powerful moment. Thank you everyone who was involved and to the rest of the Deaf and hard of hearing community, we must continue to advocate and raise the bar even higher. Congratulations to all of us!