Opinion: ‘CODA’ didn’t change my life. He showed my life

Growing up, I had a joke that I was going to make a stack of note cards to carry with me all the time, printed with the four lines above.

I imagined being able to distribute these cards to anyone who asked me about my family and my origins, tired of constantly explaining myself and my identity.

Decades later, the word none of my friends had ever heard before was suddenly everywhere. The word “CODA” has appeared on posters, billboards and television commercials. I watched the movie by myself, in a darkened room, a box of tissues in hand for the tears I knew would follow.

“CODA”, which won best picture the night of the Oscars, did not change my life. show my life.

I was the oldest of two hearing children raised by a deaf father and a hard of hearing mother in the 1980s and 1990s. When I was young, a teacher told me that I “didn’t count” as bilingual because the ‘ASL’ is not ‘your real language’, TV captions were optional and often inaccurate, and I never invited people over for dinner because I wanted to eat while it was hot instead of popping through all night translating.

Yes, I hear. But I consider myself deaf. The word, spelled with a capital D, represents our beautiful, eclectic and proud community. Like Ruby, the protagonist of “CODA,” I lived my childhood in an overlapping space between two identities, never completely comfortable in either.

When we have conversations about representation, people often say, “I saw myself on screen.” I absolutely saw myself on screen in “CODA.” But I also saw so many other people in our community.

There were deaf parents who wanted to give their children the best possible life while realizing that the “best possible life” might be the one they couldn’t have themselves.

There were the deaf siblings who watched their hearing siblings be treated differently by strangers, there were the CODAs who were forced to translate for their parents in embarrassing or unfair situations, aware of their privilege but also powerless change the way the world sees their family.

If there was a deaf version of the Bechdel test (maybe we can call it the Kotsur test?) “CODA” would pass it with flying colors. Two deaf characters? Check. Played by deaf actors? Check. language ? Check.

In his Best Supporting Actor award speech, Troy Kotsur said this moment doesn’t just belong to him, it belongs to the deaf community, the CODA community and all disabled communities.

One such community member led the crowd in “deaf applause,” Marlee Matlin, who played Kotsur’s character’s wife in “CODA.” Matlin won the Best Actress Oscar in 1987 for her role in ‘Children of a Lesser God’.
Troy Kotsur, left, accepts the supporting actor for

For deaf and CODA children of my generation, she was not just a star, she was the sun. Matlin, a deaf woman who is such an icon that she has her own sign, spent years carrying the flag alone. But she inspired and mentored a generation of deaf performers.

Seeing a multitude of deaf stories at once in “CODA” reminds us that plurality matters. What if Hollywood once again takes a break from rebooting Spider-Man and spends the budget on movies that portray disabled stories and identities?

It’s not just “CODA”. This is the scripted TV series “Switched at Birth”, the reality show “Deaf U”, the Broadway and Deaf West staging of “Spring Awakening” – which, by the way, featured Kotsur in a breakout performance – and more. More performances create more chances to show our community as more than a monolith.

“CODA” is already more than a film, like too many stories about marginalized communities, it must represent everything for everyone.

But can you imagine a world where hearing children from hearing families learn sign language just for fun? Where deaf people don’t have to contact an event venue and request a performer a month in advance just because they want to see a show where deafness is a way of life, not a tragedy?

Before that, I can honestly say I couldn’t.

Now, however, a whole new generation of children will never have to explain what “CODA” means. They will never need note cards. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll never have to apologize for who they are.


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