It’s been over a week since actor Troy Kotsur made history by becoming the first deaf man to be nominated for a film Oscar, and he hopes the achievement will benefit his community.
“I’m sure everyone in the deaf community is very happy that a deaf person has been nominated. Because awareness has been increased of them. And it can increase the hope of deaf children, that there are more possibilities and that their dreams can come true,” Kotsur tells us emphatically through a sign language interpreter.
He continues: “I am surprised myself. When people said “follow your dreams” I didn’t really believe it until it actually happened to me. So, I hope they (the community) feel inspired. And, of course, being recognized as an artist meant a lot to me. I’m just an actor who happens to be deaf. And that is truly a blessing.”
Kotsur’s big moment came for his role as a deaf fisherman who struggles to identify with his teenage daughter as she seeks to explore the world of music in the Apple TV+ project CODA, which stands for Child of Adults. deaf. The film is also in the running for the Oscar in the Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay category.
The role also earned Kotsur 31 nominations, including a BAFTA, Golden Globe and now an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Her co-star Marlee Matlin became the first deaf contestant and winner in 1986 for Children of a Lesser God.
Decoding the film’s global acceptance, the actor praises the film’s director Siân Heder for bringing sensitivity and respect to the story.
“She made the effort to learn sign language. When our sign language interpreters took a break, we could communicate directly. She was extremely sensitive to our deaf culture and showed us that respect,” he says, recalling an incident when the furniture on the set was rearranged to accommodate the deaf culture.
“It really showed a sign of respect for Deaf culture and that cultural sensitivity. And that’s what you see in our film. These small details made the success of the film”, explains the actor, who made a career on stage and also appeared in Criminal Minds and The Mandalorian.
But what touches his heart are the personalized messages he receives every day from real CODA.
“I’ve had emails from people I don’t even know, and a lot of them are real CODAs, and they’ve told me that it feels good to feel recognized and that a lot of their friends can now relate to what their life experience has been like,” reveals the 53-year-old, who earlier made history by becoming the first deaf actor nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for a performance individual for the film.
While his film, CODA, stays true to Deaf culture and experience, he knows Hollywood still has a long way to go when it comes to community.
“I really hope Hollywood starts thinking outside the box and doesn’t think about boundaries. I know there’s a lot of politics involved in budgeting and all that, but don’t be afraid of change would be my message “, he shares.
Kotsur, who now lives in Arizona, says “there are so many diverse communities with so many stories to tell.”
“I hope that in the future, in the next generation, there will be more and more opportunities for young deaf people. Of course, technology has made it easier for everyone to access, like right now we’re talking on Zoom where I’m using my natural language, which is sign language and it’s amazing,” he concludes on a note of hope.