At the 94th Academy Awards ceremony Troy Kotsur took home the Oscar for best supporting actor, portraying Deaf fisherman and father Frank Rossi in CODA. He is the second member of the Deaf community to win an Oscar. Marlee Matlin, who won the first Academy Award as a Deaf person in 1987 for her portrayal of Children of a Lesser God, co-starred with Kotsur in Coda.
CODA is the fictional story of a Deaf family in a small fishing village, focusing around the coming-of-age story of Ruby, the only hearing family member, and the family tensions that arise from this disparity.
A mere 10 seconds after handing the Oscar to Kotsur, Young Yun-Jung thoughtfully reached out to take it back, offering him the mobility to use both his hands for an ASL acceptance speech. Giggles ensued. In his passionate speech, Kotsur said, “…This is dedicated to the Deaf community, the C.O.D.A. community, and the Disabled community; this is our moment.”
The ASL interpreter’s voice notably shook when Kotsur reflected on all he had learned from his father who he called “the best [ASL] signer in our family,” and how a car accident paralyzed from the neck down, after which “he was no longer able to sign”.
Interpreters showing emotion in their interpretation can be misunderstood as unprofessional. But emotionally charged events are often central to their work. Kateryna Rietz-Rakul, for instance, made global waves for breaking into tears while interpreting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last month.
“It’s necessary for you [the interpreter] to connect with the emotion of the speaker,” said interpreter Elena Langdon, on Localization Today on March 16. “For you to actually understand and capture what somebody is saying, you have to have empathy, you have to have to understand and almost feel … what the person is feeling”.
The Hollywood community also showed off their adaptive skills by offering Deaf applause by holding up open hands, twisting them to create a room full of wiggling palms. Hearing people can relate applause to Deaf people this way, but it should be noted that this is not the ASL sign for clapping. A Deaf person may sign applause to a hearing person by laying their non-dominant hand open, palm facing up, and bringing down their dominant hand to clap the two together.