What Is CODA and Why We Need to Talk About It

CODA is a beautiful film, and it deserved the Oscar for the best film at the 2022 awards. Besides entertaining, it also, like all good art should, tells us something we did not know. How many of us knew before watching the film what CODA is?

CODA is an acronym that stands for Children of Deaf Adults. It is also an organization started by Millie Brother in 1983 to support children of deaf adults.

But why do children of deaf adults need support? 

Because they face special challenges that most of us can find hard to even conceive. Children of deaf adults act as interpreters for their parents, so in most cases they need to learn and be proficient in sign language. More than that, they inhabit two worlds – one of sound, and one in which there is no sound, only silence. Every day, they have to journey back and forth between these two worlds to help their parents navigate the world.

This puts CODA under various forms of trauma. For instance, imagine a child of 13 whose parent has been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease having to act as an interpreter between the doctor and the parent? In a normal family, a child would be shielded from such information.But for the CODA, all such protection is stripped away, leaving them vulnerable, and having to face the challenges of a harsh world by themselves. 

There is also the challenge of being different from other, “normal families”, which CODA share with all families with special needs members. 

CODA is a film that explores all these challenges and more. Emilia Jones stars as Ruby Rossi, whose parents are deaf, while she wants to pursue a career as a singer.  In some ways, the film is similar to the 1995 classic, Mr. Holland’s Opus, which also explored similar themes of life with a hearing impaired loved one. What makes CODA special though, is that it gives opportunities to deaf actors to play deaf characters. Troy Kotsur, who plays a leading role in the film, is deaf in real life and has become the first deaf person to be nominated for and win the best supporting actor award. Marlee Martin, who also stars in the film, has already won an Oscar, being the first deaf actor to do so. She won the best actress award for the 1985 Children of a Lesser God. Martin was also the youngest Academy Award winner in history for that role. Children of a Lesser God, too, was a movie that explored the challenges and trauma faced by deaf people. 

Both these films, however, connoisseur’s delights though they were, didn’t quite manage to reach the level of popular acceptance needed to spark conversations about physical disabilities, and the trauma that accompanies them. It is hoped that CODA’s success will lead us to have these conversations so that we understand more, and empathize more. Art, after all, is nothing without empathy.

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