After watching his family drama CODA inaugurate this morning while the first two Apple Original, and the first feature film directed by a mostly Deaf cast to land an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Writer-Director Sian Heder sat down with Deadline to discuss what this recognition from the Film Academy means and upcoming projects, including a biopic about disability rights activist Judy Heumann.
“I’m just stunned. I am so affected. I’m so proud of this cast and crew,” the director said of CODA’the reception. “It was a really scrappy production. It was a small independent film and people put their hearts into it, and it’s so amazing to see the film being recognized on such a large scale. I’m so incredibly moved by that cast, and their commitment to those characters and the story, and what that kind of representation does for that community.
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CODA is a dramatic comedy based on the French film The Aries Family, which tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), a CODA (or “child of a deaf adult”) who serves as an interpreter for members of her Boston family, including her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin), her father Frank ( Troy Kotsur) and his brother Leo (Daniel Durant). At a pivotal time in her life, the character finds herself torn between the role she plays, connecting her loved ones to the outside world – especially when it comes to their fishing business – and her pursuit of a musical education.
Heder’s hope is that his film will be part of a movement towards more screen representation for the deaf community. “Audiences were thrilled to see ASL on screen,” she said, “and [by] the realization that this is such a beautiful cinematic language, and why haven’t we seen it before, and why can’t we see it more? »
The hope is also that those who have seen the film will recognize just how much deaf talent there is, including, but certainly not limited to Matlin, who paved the way for his co-star Troy Kotsur’s Oscar nomination. today as the first deaf actor will be nominated and win an Oscar for the years 1986 Children of a lesser God. “I think for so long Marlee has had to carry the torch as her own, and it’s a community that’s full of amazing artists,” Heder said. “I really hope this film helps open the door for more Deaf actors, Deaf writers, Deaf directors, Deaf creators to tell these stories.”
The filmmaker’s upcoming projects include a feature film adaptation of Sarah Lotz’s 2022 novel Impossible– which she calls “a charming, funny and strange story” – and the second season of Apple’s acclaimed series Little America, which will soon go into production. Then there’s the biopic about Heumann, the longtime civil rights activist whose efforts were chronicled in Netflix’s Best Documentary Oscar nominee, screaming camp.
While Heder says she’s been in “an independent filmmaker mentality for so long,” after spending nine years trying to get her acclaimed debut feature Talulah take off, she warms up to the idea of being able to tell the stories that fascinate her more easily, in the wake of CODAis success. “The idea that it could mean I can tell the stories I want to tell and people will see that those stories are worth telling is just an amazing shift to feel,” she said. “I feel like with CODAand with the story of [Heumann and] the 504 [Sit-In]I just want to make sure that stories, especially stories from the disability community, continue to get out into the world, and that people understand that they can be entertaining and funny, and commercially viable, and that the public will adopt them.
Heder also scored a nomination today for Best Adapted Screenplay, as Kotsur became the first deaf actor to land an Oscar nomination in 35 years. The film received critical acclaim when it premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning its Grand Jury Prize, as well as its People’s Choice Award, Director’s Award, and the Special American Drama Jury Prize for Best Ensemble. Apple acquired it out of the festival for a record $25 million, releasing it in theaters and on Apple TV+ on August 13. During the 2021-2022 awards season, the film also picked up names at the BAFTA Awards, Critics Choice Awards, Artios Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, PGA Awards, and WGA Awards.
The 94th Academy Awards will take place on March 27.
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