How ‘CODA’ went from indie underdog to best picture Oscar

Director Sian Heder, center, with actors Troy Kotsur, left, and Marlee Matlin, right
Director Sian Heder, center, worked with actors Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin in the new movie “CODA,” which stands for “child of deaf adults.”
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

From the moment it premiered (virtually) at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, “CODA” seemed destined for something special. The story of a high school senior (Emilia Jones) who is the only hearing member of her household, the movie deftly balances comedy, drama and a little romance to chart the ups and downs of everyday family life. And does so with the unique perspective of three significant deaf characters played by Deaf actors (Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant and breakout actor Troy Kotsur).

It would go on to win an unprecedented four awards at the indie festival and was acquired by Apple TV+ for a record-breaking $25 million to launch on the streamer with a concurrent theatrical release. (And this is when movie theaters were still barely open due to the pandemic.)

Although its release in August 2021 was relatively quiet, the critically acclaimed movie stuck around through a competitive awards season and slowly but surely proved its ability to stand out from the pack. In January it landed Oscar nominations for adapted screenplay, supporting actor (for Kotsur) and best picture.

By the time it won the top prizes at both the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild Awards, it became the unexpected front-runner for the best picture Oscar.

“CODA” would go on to win exactly that prize, plus awards for adapted screenplay and supporting actor, at the 94th Academy Awards. Its journey — as tracked by The Times beginning at Sundance — sure has been sweet.