The Deaf Community Now Has Its Second-Ever Oscar Nominee

Oscar nomination morning is always a mixed bag, with the announcements eliciting as much confusion as excitement. Each year, though, there's at least one nomination that makes me shout with joy and fist pump in the air. This year, it's Troy Kotsur.

Kotsur's nomination isn't a complete surprise, as the actor is garnering recognition left and right for his role in "CODA." Still, it's a recognition of phenomenal work from a voting body that often fails to acknowledge performances like his. "CODA" follows the Rossi family, who run a fishing business in Massachusetts. Three of the family members — dad Frank (Kotsur), mom Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) — are deaf. Hearing daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones) acts as a reluctant interpreter for business meetings, doctors appointments, and more. The story focuses on Ruby, but Kotsur lends it its heart as her strong-willed, caring father.

Kotsur's best supporting actor Oscar nomination makes him part of a very small club. He's only the second deaf actor to ever receive a nomination. The first? Marlee Matlin, who plays his wife and business partner in "CODA." Matlin won the Academy Award for best actress for 1986's "Children of a Lesser God" when she was only 21. Like "CODA," "Children of a Lesser God" addresses differing ideologies and specific experiences within the deaf community.

CODA is Groundbreaking and Great

In an interview with ET Canada, Kotsur highlighted the importance of the nomination:

"I've received so many messages today since this morning. So many deaf people are excited and the deaf community finally feels seen and recognized with this increased awareness of American Sign Language and deaf culture."

He went on to say that the "CODA" nominations give people from diverse backgrounds "more hope for the future to tell their stories." Kotsur also noted that he's been a working actor for 25 years, and that the nomination feels like an honorary PhD.

"CODA" is a family comedy-drama, and Kotsur brings many of the film's funniest and most heartfelt moments to life. His character is bold and confrontational when it comes to business, and sweetly protective when it comes to his family. He and Jackie also have a deeply passionate relationship, and one of the film's funniest moments comes when a doctor tells the pair they need to lay off sex and Ruby, fed up with their PDA, freaks them out by jokingly interpreting his prescription as permanent. On the other hand, some of the film's most poignant moments spring from Frank's reaction to Ruby's newfound talent for singing — a pastime Frank initially has trouble connecting with.

While Kotsur's nomination for "CODA" is both well-deserved and groundbreaking, Hollywood is clearly still figuring out how to cast major roles for deaf characters. Last year, "Sound of Metal" garnered several Oscar nominees, including for hearing actors playing deaf characters, a controversial but still common casting decision. On the other hand, 2021 brought the dawn of deaf superheroes, with Lauren Ridloff playing a hero in "Eternals" and Alaqua Cox joining the cast of "Hawkeye."

The film industry's path to authentic deaf representation has been a rocky one, but "CODA" is an example of what it looks like to hand talented actors the opportunity to make an impression. The film really is, as its Best Picture nomination indicates, one of the year's best, thanks in large part to Kotsur's stunning performance.

"CODA" is streaming now on Apple TV+.