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Sunday, December 04, 2022

Oscar wins for ‘CODA’ bring tears, excitement in the Deaf community

When “CODA” won the Oscar for best picture in Los Angeles, movie stars from Samuel L. Jackson to Nicole Kidman waved their hands instead of clapping hands in recognition of the Deaf community. At home in suburban New York, Laurie Ann Barish cried, overwhelmed by what she said was a long overdue sense of acceptance.

Like the film’s acronym title, Barish was raised by a deaf parent, her mother, now 85. She said she saw her own life in the story about a Massachusetts family “wanting to be heard” and being seen to become if nothing else than anyone else.

“The deaf world is ultimately undamped,” says Barish, a 61-year-old personal assistant living in Long Beach, New York. “I wish it happened when I was younger, for my mother. It was a wonderful gift. It was for the world to see that we are all the same. We are all the same. ”

“CODA” is a tender, coming-of-age story about the only hearing member in a deaf family who became a crowd pleaser and garnered widespread critical acclaim for becoming the first film with a largely deaf cast to win the best picture. It portrays a trio of actors who are deaf, while providing an authentic depiction of the deaf life. For many in that community, the Oscar victory offers an unprecedented sense of affirmation, while providing some of Hollywood’s recent progress.

“CODA” was the first film that allowed “deaf people to be normal, hard-working individuals trying to raise a family and navigate the world,” said William Millios, who is deaf and works in freelance videography and web development in Montpelier. . Vermont.

“It showed them a lot of real frustrations, without turning them into pitiful objects that needed to be rescued,” the 56-year-old added.

The film won two more Oscars. Troy Kotsur won the best sidekick to become the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar, and only the second deaf actor to do so, joining his “CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin. The film also won for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Howard A. Rosenblum, executive director of the National Association of the Deaf, said the Oscars show that “excellence lies in adopting a different personality to convey a story convincingly and powerfully rather than acting disabled. ”

“For too long, the industry has rewarded actors and directors who exploited the herd of fake sympathies to win awards for themselves without bringing in Deaf people or people with disabilities to ensure authenticity,” Rosenblum said.

Three of the film’s actors, including Kotsur, have ties to Gallaudet University, which serves students who are deaf and hard of hearing. There was a palpable sense of excitement at his campus in Washington on Monday, university spokesman Robert B. Weinstock said.

Weinstock said it ultimately feels like people in the Deaf community are recognized by the film industry. And he hopes there will be more jobs in the performing arts and elsewhere.

“One thing we don’t have yet is a strength in numbers,” he said of Hollywood. “Not so many deaf people are currently involved in the industry. There are not as many deaf roles in front and behind the camera. … So hopefully that will change. ”

Meanwhile, people who grew up in the Deaf community say the movie provides a window into the intricacies of their lives, unknown to many in the hearing world. The film shows, for example, how many parents who are deaf can rely on children who can hear.

Matt Zatko, 49, a lawyer living in western Pennsylvania, remembers spending a lot of time as a child helping his father, who was deaf and working as a painter and wallpaper hanger.

“I remember answering the phone of people who wanted him to do work and I talked to them and signed with my father at the same time,” Zatko said. “It was our lives. This is what we did. But to see someone make a movie out of it … I laughed. I cried. ”

The movie also showed the challenges that parents who are deaf face when they visit their children at school, says Tony VonDolteren, who is Zatko’s cousin, and grew up with deaf parents.

VonDolteren, what in St. Augustine, Florida, lives, remembers how his dad cheered him on at a baseball game.

“It was harder than most and of tone,” says VonDolteren, 46, now national youth director for Perfect Game, a youth travel baseball scouting service. “It will scare you. And people are like, ‘Man, what’s wrong with that guy,’ until they find out my dad is deaf? ”

John D’Onofrio, 80, who is deaf and lives in Boynton Beach, Florida, said he is amazed at the Oscar victory for “CODA” and is grateful that more people are learning how life is for people in the Deaf community is. His stepdaughter is Barish, the personal assistant who lives in New York.

D’Onofrio said he wanted to become an architect as well as a carpenter when he grew up, but was told he could not do one. Instead, he worked for 35 years as a printer in a newspaper press room, a noisy place where many deaf people earned a living.

“It’s such a big win,” he said of the film’s Oscars. “For the Deaf community. For the deaf. For everyone. “

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