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‘CODA’ Aims to Make Movie-Going More Available to Deaf Community

This image released by Apple TV+ shows, from left, Amy Forsyth, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur in a scene from "CODA." (Apple TV+ via AP)
‘CODA’ Aims to Make Movie-Going More Available to Deaf Community
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Going to the movies is not always a fun experience for people who cannot hear. Film showings in theaters with captions -- the written words the actors are saying -- are limited. And the special equipment needed to read the captions is often broken or unavailable.

A new movie aims to change that.

“CODA” is a coming-of-age story about the only hearing member of a deaf family. It opens in theaters Friday. The film will be shown with captions that require no special equipment to see.

Marlee Matlin plays a deaf mother in the film. She is the only deaf performer to ever win an Oscar, which she won for her work in “Children of a Lesser God” in 1987.

Matlin said, “It couldn’t be more groundbreaking.” In other words, the film is introducing new ideas and ways of filmmaking to the world.

"CODA” won four awards at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Along with playing in theaters across the United States and Britain, "CODA" also will be available with full subtitles in more than 36 languages on Apple TV+, starting Friday.

Apple worked with movie theater operators to make sure the film would be played with captions for all moviegoers. This kind of captioning is known as open captions. Experts believe it is the first film released in theaters to offer open captions.

"It is historic. It is huge for all [of] us," said Daniel Durant, a deaf actor who plays son Leo in the film. "This is a day we have waited to see for so many years," he added.

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, left, and Emilia Jones in a scene from "CODA." (Apple TV+ via AP)
This image released by Apple TV+ shows Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, left, and Emilia Jones in a scene from "CODA." (Apple TV+ via AP)

The letters in the film’s name “CODA” stand for “children of deaf adults.” The film tells the story of a high school student named Ruby. She has grown up having to interpret for her deaf father, mother and brother. The family communicates with sign language. All three of the deaf characters in the film are played by deaf actors.

Durant said that, while some parts of the movie are from the position of deaf people, the appeal of “CODA” is universal.

"Anyone who watches this can feel connected with it because everyone comes from a family, and every family goes through similar struggles - kids growing up, what are they going to do in their future, becoming independent, maybe they're moving away from their family," Durant said.

Writer-director Sian Heder, who can hear, learned American Sign Language for the project. She wanted to be sure "CODA" was available for everyone to watch and enjoy.

"Oftentimes I think deaf people are left out of the movie-going experience because of devices that don't work and lack of devices in theaters," Heder said.

The filmmakers hope the open captions that appear in "CODA" will lead others in the movie industry to follow their example. They also hope it will urge deaf people to try movie theaters again.

Heder described the emotional reaction of a deaf man at a recent screening with the open captions in Massachusetts.

"He was like, 'I don't go to the movies. I can't wear those glasses,” Heder said, “He hadn't seen a movie in the theater in 10 years and he was very moved and excited."

Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

coming-of-age - n. the time when a person becomes an adult

deaf - adj. not able to hear

glasses - n. a pair of lenses set into a frame and worn over your eyes to help you see

interpret - v. to translate the words that someone is speaking into a different language

character - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show