“A set of verses that are added as a closing to certain poems. Brilliant addition to the final period of a piece of music. Final repetition of a dance piece”. These are the definitions that the RAE offers of the word “coda”, which is also the title of the film that has many ballots to win the Oscar this Sunday. The spectators who have gone to see it have thought that this name has to do with the songs and the sound, a fundamental part of the film, but it really is a play on words that hides much more and that shows to what extent society has forgotten the deaf community. CODA is the term used to refer to hearing children of deaf parents. (Child of dead adult). A word that is used all over the world but to which we have not paid any attention until now.
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That duality of the term also makes it very clear why a film like coda, which has given space and visibility to a group of deaf actors who interpret in sign language. With it, barriers are being broken and references are being given to a community that until now had had few. In the Association of the Deaf of Madrid, coda is a small phenomenon. Much has been said about it, it is commented in the corridors and everyone agrees on how special it would be for Sian Heder’s film to win the award for Best Film.
Lázaro Contreras has been with the association for a long time and is responsible for cultural activities. He creates plays, short films, is an actor, and organizes short film festivals for deaf people. He has two children. They’re both CODA, so he knows what he’s talking about. He confesses that he has seen fragments of the film but that he has not been able to see it in its entirety yet, but he is very clear why the Oscar would be something historic and also something that would change the way people look at them … and even they refer to them. Because he isn’t even right about that. Almost everyone calls them deaf and dumb, which is a mistake.
“Deaf people are tired of society not knowing us, we have an invisible disability. I speak in sign language, I enjoy speaking in sign language, and when people see us, they say: ‘a deaf and dumb person’. I tell them: ‘I can speak, you are the mute’. What I can’t do is listen, it’s a conceptual problem. Yes coda won the Oscar this would mean greater diffusion in society and they would begin to know us much better. In addition, deaf people would have more opportunities in the world of work”, says Lázaro Contreras.
His partner Isabel de las Heras, artist, cartoonist and creator of Oreja Voladora —graphic humor project in which he has been for more than 10 years—, confesses that he was very moved when he saw coda. “My hair stood on end”, she remembers and she trusts that the Oscar will go to the film, something that would make her “very happy”. “From that moment on, it will be easier for us to be hired in cinema, and there would be more visibility for deaf people, because people would see that a deaf person can be an actor and it would give many advantages to the deaf community,” she points out.
On coda not only is the deaf community made visible, but it also speaks of a real problem, that of the daughters and daughters who do hear (Codas) and who have had to be interpreters for their parents since they were very young. “They have to call her for everything, to have accessibility, for a call, for an interview… They depend on her, and what is seen in the film perfectly describes reality, and it is a psychological issue for them, because that person feels From a very young age, she has faced these types of situations. Now there is more and more quality in interpreting and there are more services, but before there were none and young children did it, and psychologically it affected them”, emphasizes De las Heras.
It gave me goosebumps. If ‘Coda’ wins the Oscar, it will be easier for them to hire us in cinema and there would be more visibility
Elizabeth of the Heras
— deaf artist
The one who seems to have secured the Oscar is Troy Kotsur, the deaf actor who gives life to the father of the family and who would be the first deaf actor to achieve it. They emphasize that you can see that he is a real deaf person in “his expressions, his movements… you can see that he is a pure deaf person.” Here lies one of the main differences with The family Bélier, the film that adapts. coda it’s a remake of this French success that was heavily criticized for using actors who were not deaf. Only one really was.
Another element that people do not know is that the sign language of each country is different. which is used in coda is not the same as seen in The Belier family and it is not the same one used by deaf people in Spain, as explained by Lázaro Contreras, who recalls that “the French deaf community got very angry”. “The film was very successful, more than seven million viewers, but deaf people had not been given a chance. It’s like hiring a white actor and painting his face black to play a jazz singer. On coda all are deaf actors with theater experience, while in The family Bélier were actors copying the sign language of an interpreter, that’s why coda It has given us hope.”
As an actor and film specialist, Contreras highlights some of coda, the presence of Marlee Matlin, the actress who won the Oscar for Children of a lesser god in 1986 and the first (and so far only) deaf person to do so. “For the entire deaf community she is a reference and thanks to her we are more motivated to work in the world of cinema. Troy Kotsur has won every award they’ve given so far and hopefully he wins the Oscar. He has a lot of merit that a deaf person takes him. There are many very good and well-known deaf actors, but then the movies are always hesitant to hire them. We have to fight until they do it, because deaf people can do anything but hear”.