Deaf community hopes 'CODA' Oscar nominations will lead to new opportunities

Posted at 7:22 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 21:09:07-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Many people enjoy seeing members of their own community up on the big screen, but some under-represented groups don't get that chance very often. Some believe a historic Oscar nomination Tuesday could go a long way to change that.

Among the Best Picture nominations is "CODA," which means Child of Deaf Adults. Nominated for supporting actor for the film is Troy Kotsur, a deaf actor. His nomination is history, marking the first time a deaf man has been nominated for an acting Oscar. Marlee Matlin was previously nominated for 1986's "Children of a Lesser God." She went on to win that Oscar.

At the nonprofit Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Mike Helms is vice president of adult education and outreach.

"I have a wife who is also deaf, and we have two daughters together," Helms said using an American Sign Language interpreter. "The oldest daughter is deaf. The youngest is able to hear which makes her a CODA."

When the film played in theaters, it also told the story of a CODA with deaf parents and a deaf sibling. The film's three Oscar nominations have Helms thrilled.

"I thought it was a miracle," he smiled.

Helms said attention for a film means visibility for the deaf community, a group he says is underrepresented in what's now playing. With "CODA" using deaf actors for the roles of deaf characters, Helms believes that can lead to opportunity.

"That allowed a lot of people to see and the producers of the movie to see also that deaf individuals are talented," he said. "I think this is really going to energize the community and to inspire them to think, 'I can do that as well.'"

When "CODA" played at the Belcourt, they held a panel featuring Helms and his youngest daughter Kami, a CODA. Both are proud a film could tell a story that's a bit like theirs. Helms hopes this is a new bridge toward a day when someone will stop and look at the posters outside a theater and see more representation for the deaf community.

In addition to Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, "CODA" is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.