Oscars flashback: Marlee Matlin made history in 1987 and can again with ‘CODA’ [WATCH]

At the 1987 Oscars, Marlee Matlin made Academy Awards history by becoming the first deaf person to be nominated for and to win an Oscar, and at age 21, also became the youngest person to win Best Actress, a record which stands today. In her film debut in the romantic drama “Children of a Lesser God” (1986), she plays Sarah, a janitor at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing who becomes romantically involved with a new hearing teacher, James Leeds (William Hurt). Matlin was praised for her ability convey her emotions without speaking and engaging her audience with her signing. Can the actress now win a second Oscar thanks to “CODA”?

On Oscar night, Matlin was presented the award by her costar and the previous year’s Best Actor winner Hurt, and with her interpreter at her side, she signed an emotional acceptance speech. (Watch the Oscars flashback video above.) Matlin also presented Best Sound that year, signing her introduction as well as the nominees with the help of her interpreter. The following year, as is tradition, she returned and presented Michael Douglas with his Best Actor Oscar for “Wall Street.”

“CODA” premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January to rave reviews, and a bidding war erupted amongst theatrical distributors and streamers. The heartwarming film won several honors at Sundance, including a Special Jury Ensemble Award, and Apple TV Plus won the distribution rights for $25 million, a Sundance record. Three actors from the film are now top contenders for Oscar consideration.

“CODA,” an acronym for “child of deaf adults,” is a coming of age story about teenager Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), who is the only hearing member of her family. She is torn between her desire to leave the nest and pursue a music career or to stay and help with her family’s struggling fishing business, as she is the liaison between them and the hearing world. Her parents and brother are all played by deaf actors: Matlin as her mother Jackie, Troy Kotsur as her father Frank and Daniel Durant as her brother Leo. Jones, Matlin and Kotsur have received well-earned praise for performances that are both touching and wickedly funny.

Since Matlin’s nomination and win 34 years ago, there have been no deaf performers nominated for acting Oscars, although this past year hearing actors Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci (who is a child of deaf parents) were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively for their portrayals of men who have lost their hearing in “Sound of Metal.” Hopefully the academy has taken notice of the Oscar-worthy performances in “CODA,” and Matlin will make academy history by becoming the first deaf performer to receive two Academy Award nominations.

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