“Coda” brings representation to the deaf community


Stephani Bradley

Though it made a very low amount in box office, the movie CODA had relatively positive reviews from the general public on its representation of people who have deaf hearing. It received numerous accolades.

“Coda” had all the makings of a Best Picture winner of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award (or more commonly known as an Oscar Award): heartwarming story and deaf representation. Based on the 2014 French film, “La Famille Belier”, and directed by Sian Heder, “Coda” tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), the titular Child of Deaf Adults (or CODA for short).

The title of the film has a double meaning: Coda meaning Child of Deaf Adults and coda meaning the final part of a piece of music. Although the film’s portrayal of the deaf community was heralded as a positive representation, the way deaf people were represented on screen was imperfect in some places.

Some strong points were the inclusion of deaf actors Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as the parents and Daniel Durant as the older brother. Matlin already had an Oscar under her belt for “Children of a Lesser God” and Kotsur earned multiple awards as a result of this role.

One part I found incredibly interesting with regards to representation was the multiple instances of American Sign Language being misunderstood in communication with hearing individuals.

For example, during a scene involving Leo’s potential girlfriend, she asks Ruby to teach her the sign for “you are smoking hot.” Ruby intentionally teaches her the wrong sign, which leads to Leo asking why she said she has herpes.

In another example, Mr. Villalobos, Ruby’s choir director, accidentally signs “nice to screw you” instead of “nice to meet you” in a conversation with Ruby’s parents after the Fall Concert.

A common theme that has been present in many films throughout 2021 is the tightrope of family dynamics. Ruby’s family situation is complicated by the fact that Ruby wants to attend music school, but her parents need her in order to give their fishing business the opportunity to thrive.

The film took the radical step of including subtitles in its theatre screenings. People have taken for granted that subtitles could be turned on if you so chose. The inclusion of subtitles throughout the film helped to improve audience access. Hopefully, Coda can help to normalize the use of subtitles on film.

In a sense, Coda demonstrates just how much the deaf community has been marginalized in the hearing world, but it doesn’t quite offer concrete answers as to how to improve access and quality of life for deaf people. This is where you, the audience member, come in.

There are local Deaf Action Centers that offer resources such as American Sign Language classes. This gives hearing people the chance to learn how to communicate better with deaf people. In addition, there are a plethora of articles on the Internet that can help educate you about the deaf experience.