Actress Marlee Matlin has come a long way since winning the Oscar for lead actress in 1987’s “Children of a Lesser God.”
Matlin, who is Deaf and communicates through American Sign Language, recently starred in a new film called “CODA.”
In the Deaf community, CODA is an acronym for Child Of a Deaf Adult. The film tells the story of a girl named Ruby Rossi, played by Emilia Jones. Ruby is the only hearing member of a Deaf family who has dreams of going away to college and becoming a professional singer.
Director Siân Heder warned that the film was made to be a tear-jerker, and noted that she witnessed audience members lifting their face masks to blow their noses during early screenings of the emotional film.
Is ‘CODA’ Going To Be An Award-Winning Film?
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In January, “CODA” premiered at the virtual Sundance Film Festival. It was later bought by Apple Studios for a whopping $25 million dollars.
To have “CODA” be nominated – or even win – an Academy Award would be groundbreaking. The film consists of primarily Deaf actors, and ASL is subtitled – not translated – to show audience members unfamiliar with the visual language that it has a grammatical structure and syntax that is very different from English.
ASL is communicated not only through a signer’s hands, but through their facial expressions and body language as well. Heder believes that this active engagement of the language creates an intimate environment that resonates with audiences.
“In order to sign with someone, you have to be fully engaged, looking at them face-to-face,” Heder explained. “And that connectedness, that engagement is something in Deaf culture that hearing culture lacks, or, at least, is longing for. So when you see the Rossi family communicating and engaging in a way that’s so human and vibrant, you’re drawn in because they’re inhabiting what they’re saying with their facial expressions and even their bodies.”
Marlee Matlin Hopes That ‘CODA’ Will Open Doors For The Deaf Community
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Speaking through her long-time interpreter Jack Jason, Matlin says, “I hope studios take notice that you can have more than one Deaf actor, and they don’t have to be in the background. I hate getting political about this kind of stuff, but Deaf actors can play many different roles, just like everybody else. So why not use them more to create a different perspective?”
Matlin, who grew close to her on-screen daughter Emilia Jones, has her fingers crossed that a sequel might be in the works to continue the story of the Rossi family.
“The Rossis felt so real to me,” Jones said. Jones previously starred in the Netflix series “Locke & Key.” To prepare for the role, she spent nine months learning how to sign, learning how to sing, and even learning how to fish!
She continued, “They’re like my second family. I wasn’t sure what I’d do without them in my life. Some days, I’m still not sure.”
“CODA 2,” Matlin replied, adding, “We need another chapter.”