“CODA” is a film about a hearing girl in a deaf family, and filmmaker Sian Heder and the stars of the film hope that this movie opens the door to more representation of deaf culture on screen.
“The real problem we have is that these stories are so infrequently told, that when they are, there is this pressure to be all things to all people and to represent every aspect of that experience. And my hope is by telling this story, more stories are told,” Heder told Beatrice Verhoeven at TheWrap’s Sundance Studio presented by NFP and National Geographic. “I just hope this movie opens the door to representation and that we are able to invite people in to tell these stories so we can have 100 movies about the deaf experience out there.”
“CODA,” which stands for “child of deaf adult,” follows Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) and her deaf parents (played by Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur), as well as her deaf brother (played by Daniel Durant), all of whom have their hands on the family’s struggling fishing business. Heder’s deaf characters are played by deaf actors.
Durant, through interpreter Heather Rossi, who also signed for all hearing participants, added that there is an array of deaf actors and writers out there who would love to see more opportunities for them on the big and small screens.
“For Hollywood to think, ‘We must pick deaf people for this role,’ just look at the talent!” he said. “Hollywood needs to see this [movie] as an example.”
Kotsur, through interpreter Josh Steckel, thanked the filmmaker for the opportunity to cast “a deaf male character” and said everyone should see and hear this film.
“You can write it because the character is deaf or you can write it and the character just happens to be deaf,” he said about Hollywood roles for deaf people. “There are two different intents there.”
“I think what Troy just said is important,” Eugenio Derbez, who plays a non-apologetic music teacher, said. “I talk about diversity because I’m Latino and we always talk about that; anytime they call a Latino for a movie because they need a gardener or a drug lord and we are always saying, ‘Why?'”
Matlin, through interpreter Jack Jason, added that she’d like to see “greater representation of actors who happen to be deaf, who are actors who carry a film or TV series, be the star of the series as opposed to being relegated to the background.”
Based on the French film “La Famille Bélier,” the “CODA” script is a powerful one – one that Jones knew she had to be a part of it as soon as she read it. She learned American Sign Language for nine months and studied between takes while shooting another project.
“I remember thinking, whoever gets to play Ruby is an incredibly lucky girl because it’s such a beautiful script, and I don’t think roles like this come along very often,” she said. “The opportunity to learn Sign Language, to sing, to work a fishing boat and be a fisher girl — I read the script and fell in love with it.”
Matlin added: “I love that it incorporated deaf culture, American Sign Language, working with deaf actors and then working with actors, who I didn’t know at the time who would be a part of the film and learning Sign Language.”
“CODA” sold for a record-breaking $25 million to Apple on Saturday.
Watch the video above.
TheWrap’s Sundance Virtual Studio is sponsored by NFP and National Geographic.