CODA (2021) tells the story of a hearing girl, Ruby (Emilia Jones), and her relationship with her deaf family of fisherman when she decides in her senior year of high school to pursue singing. With excellent performances by Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as Ruby’s parents CODA hits all of the familiar beats; tugging the heart strings in much the same way as Children Of A Lesser God (1986) and Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). Yet CODA isn’t the run of the mill sentimental picture advocating for social acceptance and compassion.
In one important way CODA defies films like Mr. Holland’s Opus and Children Of A Lesser God. Those films focused exclusively on how a hearing society could and should accept those who cannot hear. CODA illustrates that those who cannot hear are not the “other”; their relationships, their very being is valid and represents an equal society that, in popular culture and politics, exists as a kind of insular world. CODA shows that it isn’t a matter of one group accepting the other; which in and of itself speaks to some latent superiority. No, what CODA shows in its climactic moments is that there must be a complete fusion of these societies.
The film is ostensibly about Ruby and her journey coming of age, but all of that is just a means towards this end. For too long films similar to this have been complacent. A mere tip of the hat towards equality is all well and good yet in the end it’s still utterly meaningless. Luckily writer and director Sian Heder is correcting this course.