Pioneering family drama Coda has gone from a low budget festival film to best picture at the Oscars, marking a milestone as AppleTV+ becomes the first-ever streamer to win the award.
The heart-warming movie, directed by Sian Heder, also triumphed at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won top prize and became the biggest acquisition in the festival’s history after Apple TV+ picked it up for 25 million US dollars.
But its road to Oscar glory was far from assured thanks to an early-in-the-year release on to a smaller streaming service in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
The film stars Emilia Jones as Ruby, the child of deaf adults (Coda), and deaf performers Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant, as her fisherman family.
It made history as the first film with a primarily deaf cast to win top prize at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, while Kotsur added another historical milestone as he becomes the first deaf male actor to win the Oscar, following his success at the 94th awards ceremony.
He dedicated his Oscar to “the deaf community, the Coda community and the disabled community”, adding: “This is our moment”.
The actor appeared overwhelmed as he made his way to the Oscars stage accompanied by his interpreter, who has been a regular fixture throughout his awards season journey, where he has picked up a string of gongs.
Addressing director Heder on stage, he said: “You are our bridge and your name will forever be on that bridge Sian Heder bridge in Hollywood.”
He added: “My dad he was the best signer in our family, but he was in a car accident and he became paralysed from the neck down and he was no longer able to sign.
“Dad, I learnt so much from you I’ll always love you, you are my hero. Thank you to my biggest fans.
“I just want to say this is dedicated to the deaf community, the Coda community and the deaf community. This is our moment.”
Kotsur credits his career with the impact he felt when he watched his Coda co-star Matlin win the best actress Oscar in 1987 for her role in Children Of A Lesser God, the first deaf performer ever to win an Academy Award.
He has also spoken of his gratitude that she championed his casting in the film they made together, which has garnered him best supporting actor wins at Sag, Bafta, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards.
He won both the CCA and Bafta on the same night on March 13.
Kotsur previously said felt like an “outsider” in the acting world and had to fight to land parts over hearing stars.
“I auditioned for the role and about two years later, it came forward with an offer,” he told the PA news agency.
“It took so long because behind the scenes they were arguing over who would play the role of Frank Rossi and concerns.
“I’m so grateful to our director, Sian Heder, and Marlee Matlin who really had to fight for that authenticity, and the producers who supported this project and made sure that we would get to this point, and that really made a difference.”
Oscar watchers had long tipped Jane Campion’s western The Power Of The Dog as the likely winner of the best picture prize but it became apparent that Coda could provide a spoiler when the Producers Guild named it best picture earlier this month.
The film, adapted by Heder as an English-language remake of the 2014 French-language film La Famille Belier, also won the best adapted screenplay Oscar.
It follows Ruby Rossi, the only hearing member of her family, as she struggles to balance high-school and assisting with the family fishing business.
Her passion for singing leads her to join the school choir, tutored by her eccentric mentor Mr Villalobos, played by Eugenio Derbez, who encourages her to audition for Berklee College Of Music.
Heder has said working on the film had been “life-changing” and hopes to make her career about being an ally to the deaf community.
Following the ceremony, Mike Hobday, head of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, hailed the impact of the film on young people.
He said: “Congratulations to the cast and crew of the film Coda on scooping three Oscars at this year’s ceremony, including best picture, and to Troy Kotsur on winning best supporting actor.
“It’s important that deaf children and young people see themselves represented in movies and on TV. We’ve seen some great examples of this in recent years and we hope this trend continues.
“Troy’s success will show deaf children and young people that they are not alone, and will do even more to inspire the next generation.”