“CODA” star Troy Kotsur made history at the Oscars as the first deaf man to win an Academy Award for acting.
His victory comes 35 years after his “CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin became the first deaf actor ever to win an Oscar, for her leading role in “Children of a Lesser God.”
Kotsur dedicated the win to his father in an emotional speech that made his interpreter choke up. Audience members at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood gave Kotsur a standing ovation and signed applause in American Sign Language by waving their hands.
“My dad, he was the best signer in our family, but he was in a car accident and he became paralyzed from the neck down and he no longer was able to sign. Dad, I learned so much from you. I’ll always love you. You are my hero,” Kotsur said.
Kotsur, who has become something of an expert in delivering touching acceptance speeches during this awards season, also brought some levity to the show. He mentioned the “CODA” cast recently met Joe and and Jill Biden at the White House — joking that Matlin stopped him from teaching the president and first lady swear words in sign language.
“I was planning on teaching them some dirty sign language but Marlee Matlin told me to behave myself. So don’t worry, Marlee, I won’t drop any ‘F’ bombs in my speech today,” Kotsur said. “Instead, I want to thank all the wonderful deaf theater stages, where I was allowed and given the opportunity to develop my craft as an actor.”
Kotsur then gave a shoutout to Sian Heder, who wrote and directed “CODA.” The feel-good film became a surprisingly powerful contender in the awards race since premiering at Sundance Film Festival last year. Apple TV Plus spent a record $25 million for “CODA,” which was also nominated for best picture and adapted screenplay.
“I read one of [Steven] Spielberg’s books recently, and he said the definition of the best director was a skilled communicator. Sian Heder, you are the best communicator. The reason why is you brought the deaf world and the hearing world together, and you are our bridge,” Kotsur said.
Kotsur had formidable competition in Ciarán Hinds (“Belfast”), Jesse Plemons (“The Power of the Dog”), J.K. Simmons (“Being the Ricardos”) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”). But the 53-year-old became the clear frontrunner after taking home key precursor awards, including a British Academy Film Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Critics’ Choice Award. Kotsur has continued to break new ground during awards season as the first deaf male actor to land those prizes.
Kotsur portrays the funny and foul-mouthed Frank Rossi in “CODA,” a touching melodrama about a teenage girl named Ruby who is the only hearing member of her family. (The title is an acronym for “child of deaf adults.”) Frank Rossi, a deaf fisherman, struggles to relate to his daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones), who is torn between pursing her passion for singing and helping her family’s fishing business, since Ruby serves as their interpreter with the outside world. In a particularly moving scene, Frank listens to Ruby’s sing by holding his hands to her vocal cords as a way to connect with his daughter over something she loves.
“Frank was trying to understand: What’s so special about his daughter’s singing?” Kotsur said in a prior interview.
It wasn’t only the emotional moments that won over voters. Kotsur’s Frank Rossi was behind several humorous bits as well. In one instance at the doctor’s office, he had to translate the discomfort of having jock itch.
“Troy is an amazing improviser,” “CODA” director Sian Heder previously recalled. “We were dying laughing behind the monitor because every time he described having jock itch, it became more outrageous, more visual and more graphic.”