Troy Kotsur made history Sunday as the first deaf male actor to earn an Oscar, winning over voters with a funny, assured and authentic turn as the father of a loving family in the heartfelt indie drama “CODA.”
Deaf since birth, the 53-year-old has been an established stage actor for decades, with a lead role on Broadway on his resume, and was previously best known on the big screen for a supporting role in Jim Carrey thriller “The Number 23.”
But his performance in “CODA” alongside Marlee Matlin – the only other deaf actor to win an Oscar, in 1987 for “Children of a Lesser God” – has catapulted him to a historic Academy Award win.
“This is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community and the disabled community. This is our moment,” Kotsur said as he accepted his award.
Kotsur beat rival nominees Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee (both “The Power of the Dog”), Ciaran Hinds (“Belfast”) and J.K. Simmons (“Being the Ricardos”).
In “CODA” – an acronym for child of deaf adult – Kotsur plays Frank Rossi, whose family fishing business is struggling under the weight of bureaucracy and the changing climate.
The family faces the added challenge of being deaf in a tough blue-collar world, where authorities are unwilling to make allowances for their lack of hearing.
They rely on hearing daughter Ruby (played by breakout young actress Emilia Jones), who struggles to balance the demands of translating for the family with her own ambitions to sing.
“CODA” also triumphed on Sunday for best picture and best adapted screenplay.
‘Finally part of the family’
The film became an instant phenomenon following the Sundance film festival in January 2021, where its premiere sparked a frenzied bidding war eventually won by Apple TV+ for a record $25 million.
The relative newcomer to the streaming wars released the film worldwide last summer, and Kotsur – a regular performer at Los Angeles’ Deaf West Theater known to television viewers for turns in “The Mandalorian” and “CSI: NY” – has collected multiple accolades since.
His Oscar charge began in earnest last month when he won best supporting actor honors from the Screen Actors Guild.
“Now I feel like I’m finally part of the family,” he told the Hollywood-based actors union.
“I know what 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, and all of that. You feel me, right?”
Kotsur also thanked Apple for “believing in us deaf actors and casting us authentically as actors who happen to be deaf,” before the film went on to win the night’s top prize for best cast.
He followed that honor up with a Bafta and a Spirit award.
Kotsur – who is married and has a daughter, Kyra – went one better on Sunday, winning the Oscar from an industry that has been slow to listen to the deaf community.