The Margin: 5 things to know about ‘CODA’ — the Apple TV+ film making Oscar history

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Though the moment was overshadowed by Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, “CODA” made Oscar history on Sunday night when it captured the all-important prize for best picture.

The movie became the first produced by a streaming service — in this case, Apple’s
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Apple TV+ — to take home the top honor. Its victory is also seen as an important moment for the deaf community, since “CODA” tells the story of a hearing-impaired family with a hearing-capable daughter.

Read on to find out more about the picture and the prize(s) it won.

What is “CODA” about?

“CODA” indeed tells of a deaf family — the Rossi family, to be exact, who live in Gloucester, Mass. Father Frank (Troy Kotsur) is a struggling fisherman who works alongside his wife Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and son Leo (Daniel Durant) in running his business. Daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only member of the family who can hear — she’s in high school and has an eye on a singing career. The film captures the family drama, particularly as Frank struggles to understand Ruby’s passion and dreams.

How did “CODA” get produced?

Based on a 2014 French picture, “La Famile Bélier,” “CODA” was developed by producers Philippe Rousselet, who was involved in the original movie, and Patrick Wachsberger. They teamed up with the American filmmaker Siân Héder to create the new version, which was produced on a relatively low budget of $10 million. Another production company, Pathé Films, was also brought on board.

The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2021, where it caught the attention of the Apple team, which acquired distribution rights for $25 million. “CODA” was released in theaters and on Apple TV+ on Aug. 13, 2021.

How was it received? And how much has it earned?

“CODA” became a favorite among critics. On theRogerEbert.com site, reviewer Tomris Laffy described it as “caring, boisterous, and adorned with the hugest of hearts.” New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis praised it for relishing “the opportunity to showcase the expressiveness of sign language.”

“CODA” has taken in relatively little at the box office — just slightly above $1 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website. But for a picture released by a streaming service, its worth may be better measured in terms of the online audience — the film has been streamed 973,000 times, according to Deadline.com. Still, that’s far less than the viewership for other prominent (and Oscar-nominated) pictures as “Dune” (streamed 5.3 million times) and “Power of the Dog” (3.4 million times).

As far as the Oscars go, “CODA” won two other awards — for Kotsur (best supporting actor) and for Héder (best adapted screenplay).

So, is this Oscar win for “CODA” significant?

Very much so. It could help solidify the importance of streaming to a film industry that has struggled in recent years — and even more so because of the pandemic. Even before “CODA” was declared best picture, New York Times opinion writer Ross Douthat talked about this past year as one that symbolized the end of the movies as we know them in the theatrical-release sense. A “world where more and more movies are made primarily for streaming platforms will be a world that cares less about audiovisual immersion,” he wrote.

“CODA” also heralds the rise of Apple TV+ among streaming services — and many industry observers have pointed to the fact the picture vied against the heavily touted Netflix-produced
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nominee “The Power of the Dog.” Before the Oscars, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said a win for “CODA” would “catalyze more A+ talent coming to Apple first.”

Lastly, there’s the significance of the “CODA” victory to the deaf community, a point made by Kotsur in his acceptance speech after taking home his Oscar (the first acting Oscar win for a deaf man, it should be noted). “This is our moment,” he said.

What does the title of “CODA” refer to?

CODA stands for “child of deaf adult.” There’s an international CODA organization that supports this community.

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