CODA is a phenomenon.
It portrays a different experience, of physical disability and emotional attachment, and it comes together in an incendiary crescendo. Is it one of the best movies available to watch on a streaming service? Yes, maybe. Did it deserve its Best Movie win over Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog, a complex Western revisionist drama? Probably not. Although both movies are about family, CODA is simple. Simple in its themes, its conflicts, its power. It awakens something deep and beautiful in us. The ability to reconcile, to forgive and to overcome obstacles together.
It is similar to thousands of run-of-the-mill coming-of-age dramas we have seen before. There is a clique of hot girls who laugh at her parent’s disability and are mean all the time. There is a teacher who meets her and suddenly pushes her to audition for the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Its characterisations are strong, very black and white. But the actors inject some much-needed levity in their performance. Emilia Jones is a revelation as the eponymous CODA. She has a talent for singing but how can she share that with her deaf family when they refuse to understand her life as her own. Casting deaf actors such as Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who co-incidentally are the only two deaf people to win an Academy Award – and deservedly so – was a lesson to all of Hollywood that times have changed.
Representation goes a long way. You might think it doesn’t but Islamophobia and crimes against Middle Eastern folks went down by almost 90% since Mohammed Salah started playing for Liverpool. When Moonlight won the Best Picture award or when Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize, the world didn’t magically change but it slowly becomes a better place for those on the side lines to live in. And that’s what CODA does. It brings forth a sweet, sensitive story about family and connection, which a lot of people can connect to.
The film sparkles only when they focus on the trials and tribulations of the deaf community. It’s almost heart-breaking to have the family’s fishing license, their only source of income, suspended because they never heard the Coast Guard’s sirens. What’s even worse is that they blame their daughter, Emilia Jones’ Ruby, who went out with the guy she likes. You can see her pain as she chokes back her sobs and resolutely says it isn’t her fault. The film makes this conflict the centrepiece: family or self?
Last year’s poignant and furious drama, Sound of Metal, where Riz Ahmed plays a man slowly turning deaf, solidified the ability of stories told through a different lens. Disabilities have always proven to be a villainous origin story in Hollywood movies, rather than pointers for important conversations. CODA may usher in a much needed change. We cannot exclude them from our society, so we must see them on-screen.