‘CODA’ – A Beautiful Representation Of The Deaf Community: Review

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CODA is a breath of fresh air

An acronym for Child Of Deaf Adults, ‘CODA’ tells the story of seventeen-year-old Ruby Rossi as the only hearing member of her family. When she starts to pursue a future in music, her dreams put her at risk of alienating her family.

★★★★

There have been hundreds of films that cover the lives of teenagers, finding their way through high school, relationships, and all things in-between, but CODA is a breath of fresh air: It’s a new take on the teen film genre, and it’s no surprise that it won four awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

The film follows the life of seventeen-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), who is the only hearing family member amongst her deaf father, mother and older brother. All members of the family work in the fishing trade, barely earning enough money to get by. Ruby is the backbone of her family’s business. She not only translates for them, but is not afraid to call out people taking advantage of the fact that her family can not hear. 

As the story moves forward, we get an insight into Ruby’s school life. This can initially come across as cliche: the typical “girl gets bullied because she’s not popular” trope. However, she then goes on to join the choir elective, as she has a passion for singing, despite her relatively reserved reputation at school. Although hesitant at first, Ruby begins to grow much more confident in her musical abilities, thanks to the help of her teacher, Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez). Ruby then decides that she wishes to follow her dreams of becoming a successful singer, and begins looking into musical colleges. 

This is where the story really begins to take shape. Despite Ruby’s dreams and aspirations, there is still a huge elephant in the room: how is her family going to be able to make a living without her? Ruby is sometimes referred to as a ‘free translator’, which can sound malicious, but actually emphasises the fact that the family has just enough funds to get by. 

As well as the overarching story itself, the film encompasses the lives of deaf people extremely well. There are often scenes where the sound is completely taken away from the film, in order to almost replicate the situations that deaf people go through daily. This ranges from arguments between people, to attending Ruby’s concert, and having to watch the audience’s reaction to gauge the atmosphere of the show and how well it is going. 

CODA is also sensitive to the abuse many people with disabilities go through. At one point Ruby’s brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), is in a bar, when a man drops a drink on him. In his rage, he begins to stand up and argue with him, but of course, he can only do this in sign language, leading to him being mocked. As a showcase of the abuse that many people with disabilities go through, the scene is heartbreaking. 

Throughout the film, we get an insight into each character and their own individual struggles with being deaf. This is beautifully done, as the representation of the characters within the deaf community were given depth and individuality, instead of having their struggles grouped together into one.  There was so much time and effort put into each and every character, giving them all their own unique experiences. Alongside the many emotional scenes that this film contains, there are also so many humorous moments, making it a feel-good watch, whilst also subtly educating the audience on elements of the deaf community. 

The Verdict 

At the heart of the film, CODA is a portrayal of love, family, teenagehood, and a passion for music. Despite some elements of the film being somewhat cliche, the film features fantastic performances and does a wonderful job at representing the deaf community—something we can only hope to see more of in films to come.

Words by Connie Burke


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