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On March 27, 2022, Troy Kotsur became the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar. The 53-year-old, who won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Frank Rossi in "CODA," is only the second Deaf actor to attain the prestigious award. In 1987, Marlee Matlin took home the Best Actress award for her role as Sarah in the movie "Children of a Lesser God."
Kotsur's journey to the Oscars began in elementary school when he would act out skits of his favorite television show, "Tom and Jerry," to his deaf classmates. He began his professional acting career at age 23 at the National Theatre for the Deaf in Connecticut, before moving to Los Angeles, California, to join a new theater company called Deaf West.
Over the years, Kotsur has played leading roles in many theatrical productions, including "Of Mice and Men," "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Kotsur also directed the feature film "No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie" in 2013.
In "CODA" — which stands for Child of Deaf Adult and also means a finale in music — Kotsur plays the father of 17-year-old Ruby Rossi, As the only hearing member of the family, the teenager is torn between the sense of obligation toward her family and her own dreams of becoming a singer.
Ironically, the movie's producers had initially decided on casting a famous hearing actor to play Kotsur's role. However, Matlin, who plays Kotsur's wife in the movie, insisted that the role should go to a deaf actor. "The idea was presented to me that there would be hearing people who would be playing those roles, and I thought, are you kidding me?" she told The Daily Beast through an interpreter. "I didn't have to freak out, and I didn't have to go crazy and scream about it. I just calmly said,' 'If you do it, then I am out. Simple as that. And I guess my feelings—and what I was trying to represent—worked. I mean, it was a no-brainer."'
As it turned out, few actors could have portrayed Frank Rossi as well as Kostur did. The outstanding actor, who also won this year's Critics' Choice Award, Screen Actors' Guild Award, and a Bafta Award, says the accolades have encouraged him to continue acting. "I was starting to feel like giving up," Kotsur said through an interpreter on Awards Chatter. "And so I auditioned for "CODA," and I told myself, 'This is my last chance. This is my last hope.' And I gave it my best shot."
"CODA," which also won the Oscar for Best Picture, was not the only Deaf and sign language representation at this year's Academy Awards. "Audible," which chronicled the football program at Maryland School for the Deaf, was also nominated for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Additionally, Best Picture nominees "Dune" and "Drive My Car" both featured sign language.
Resources: Dailybeast.com, NPR.com, NBCnewyork.com, thennationaldesk.com