Best Picture winner CODA trails the life of Ruby Rossi, a CODA or “Child of Deaf Adults,” currently a high schooler standing as an interpreter for her deaf family. After joining the school choir and discovering her talent for singing, she finds herself torn between chasing her dreams and staying for her family.
On the surface, CODA can seem like a reverberation of familiar tunes heard from your usual coming-of-age dramedy. True enough, it’s adapted from the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier—but what shapes its memorable sound is its authentic cast. Instead of choosing hearing actors for the D/deaf roles, director Sian Heder (known for Tallulah and Orange is The New Black) pushed for faithful representation. The Rossi family members are played by real-life Deaf actors: Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, Best Supporting Actor Troy Kotsur, and Switched at Birth star Daniel Durant.
To be fully immersed in the story, CODA requires attentive viewing—creating an experience that enables the audience to embody a CODA. It makes you listen with your eyes as much as your ears. As the scenes switch from dialogue to ASL and back, spectators feel what it’s like to be an in-between, like Ruby, in the middle of two worlds at once. Rather than amplifying a disability, CODA makes waves, connecting differing worlds and their mutual willingness to hear each other out.
One of the film’s softest pitches is the emotional revelation of the D/deaf experiencing music. From cluelessness comes clarity for the Rossi family when Ruby starts sign-singing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” Not only does this bridge a gap between the hearing and non-hearing, it also thickens their rhythm as a family—proving that mutual understanding is just a matter of give-and-take. While Ruby’s Deaf parents and brother taught her to talk with her hands, she taught them to listen with their eyes and heart.
Tender, loud, and honest, CODA is a heartfelt love song about intersecting worlds. While it’s refreshing to see films like Sound of Metal and CODA, future filmmakers should strive to accurately represent the D/deaf culture in mainstream media. Deafness is diverse: there are many different types of deafness, and persons who are deaf and those who have hearing loss have a wide range of perspectives. Movies should reflect this diversity and give them more opportunities to be heard.
CODA is streaming on AppleTV+.