Oscar-winning actress praises director Sian Heder for "including deaf culture" in her SAG Award-winning film: "We, deaf actors, have come a long way."

CODA (2021 movie)

Marlee Matlin — the only deaf actress to ever win an Academy Award — continued blazing new trails at Sunday night's Screen Actors Guild Awards, where her CODA ensemble cast pulled off a surprise victory among the union's highest competitive category.

For the actors' work in director Sian Heder's film about a deaf family raising their hearing daughter, the Oscar-winning performer accepted the ensemble victory through an interpreter, alongside costars Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Durant and Troy Kotsur, who earlier in the evening became the first-ever deaf performer to win an individual SAG Award.

"I'm stunned," Matlin said at the top of her speech, before going on to thank Apple TV+ for purchasing the movie for tens of millions of dollars out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

"Sian Heder, our director and writer, we tip our hat to you. Thank you for writing the words and including deaf culture. We love you," the Children of a Lesser God star continued. "Thank you all of the CODA interpreters and all CODAs [children of deaf adults] everywhere all over the world. My kids, four of them, are CODAs. You are all our peers. We, deaf actors, have come a long way. 35 years I've been seeing so much work out there in all this time, I've watched all of your films, and I pay the deepest respect to all of you."

Coda Ensemble win
Marlee Matlin accepts SAG Awards' ensemble trophy for 'CODA'
| Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images

She closed the speech by teaching the audience the sign language hand gesture for "I love you" after championing the milestones deaf performers have achieved in Hollywood.

"This validates the fact that we, deaf actors, can work just like anybody else," she said. "We look forward to more opportunities for deaf actors and deaf culture."

Upon winning his solo SAG award, Kotsur also thanked the group for "believing in" deaf actors.

"I've been a [SAG] member since 2001, so now I feel like I'm finally part of the family," Kotsur previously told the audience through an ASL interpreter at the SAG ceremony. "I know you all are artists, and I know you all know what it's like to be a starving actor. Back then, I used to sleep in my car, I slept in my dressing room backstage, I couch surfed. All of that, you feel me, right? So thank you so much."

CODA earned glowing reviews out of last year's Sundance, and slowly became a major contender in the ongoing awards race — en route to a Best Picture Oscar nomination as well as an individual acting nod for Kotsur. SAG has only recognized 12 of the Academy's Best Picture winners with its ensemble prize since its debut ceremony in 1995. This category's choices tend to reflect more commercially friendly fare than films with legitimate Best Picture traction, though CODA remains a dark horse contender in the race at large.

CODA is now playing on Apple TV+. Follow our full coverage of the 2022 SAG Awards.

Check out The Awardist podcast for interviews with this year's top contenders for the Oscars and more of Hollywood's biggest awards. 

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CODA (2021 movie)
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