Deaf family drama 'CODA' wins best picture Academy Award

Amid silent applause from his peers, Troy Kotsur became the first deaf actor to win an Oscar since 'CODA' co-star Marlee Matlin.
LOS ANGELES -- After a movie year often light on crowds, the Academy Awards named an unabashed crowd-pleaser, the deaf family drama "CODA," best picture Sunday, handing Hollywood's top award to a streaming service for the first time.

Sian Heder's "CODA," which first premiered at a virtual Sundance Film Festival in winter 2021, started out as an underdog but gradually emerged as the Oscars' feel-good favorite. It also had one very deep-pocketed backer in Apple TV+, which scored its first best picture Academy Award on Sunday, less than three years after launching the service.

It also handed another near-miss defeat to Netflix, the veteran streamer that for years has tried vainly to score best picture. Its best chance, Jane Campion's "The Power of the Dog," came in with a leading 12 nominations.

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But "CODA" rode a wave of goodwill driven by its cast including Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant. It's the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. "CODA" managed that despite being one of the least-nominated films, with only three coming into Sunday. Not since 1932's "Grand Hotel" has a movie won best picture with fewer than four nods.

Kotsur, who took home his statue in the second hour of the Academy Awards, was widely expected to become the first deaf actor since Matlin in 1987 to win an Oscar.

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"This is amazing to be here on this journey," Kotsur said in his acceptance speech Sunday night. "I cannot believe that I am here."

In his speech, Kotsur thanked the deaf theater companies who fostered him as an actor, and President Joe Biden, who invited the "CODA" cast for a tour of the White House last Tuesday. "CODA" is an acronym for "children of deaf adults."

Presented with the award by "Minari" star Youn Yuh-jung, who took home an Oscar in 2021 for best supporting actress, Kotsur was received by his peers, who silently signed their applause as he made his way to the stage.

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Choking back tears, writer-director Heder signed "I love you" to her family and before the world, as she chronicled "CODA's" journey from script to screen.

"This was an independent film and it was incredibly hard to get made," Heder said during her acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay. "Writing and making this movie was truly life-changing as an artist and as a human being."

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"I feel like I have dust that's been on my back that finally is starting to become clean. I feel a bit lighter," Kotsur told On The Red Carpet after his nomination. "This chip is off my shoulder and yes, it is a historic moment. It just really, it'll be documented. Even after I leave this planet, it'll still be documented in the history books. And so it's truly a blessing."

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The coming-of-age film follows Ruby, the only hearing person in her New England family of four, as she contemplates leaving their struggling fishing business -- and her role as their interpreter -- to pursue her own dreams at the Berklee College of Music. The family is forced to figure out how they'll survive without her.

The family drama won best ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and beat out bigger contenders, including "The Power of the Dog," "Dune" and "West Side Story" at the Producers Guild Awards. The top PGA award winner has gone on to win the top Oscar in three of the past four years and 10 of the past 13.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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