Easily the biggest “wow” moments of the SAG Awards came from CODA’s two surprise wins, both historic. Troy Kotsur became the first deaf actor to win an individual acting award (for Best Supporting Actor), and he became a two-time winner as part of the predominately deaf cast for Best Ensemble – Motion Picture, the first majority deaf cast to win the ensemble award. This is a big momentum shift in the supporting actor race, which was the most wide-open acting contest of the awards season.
Kotsur delivered a great speech, too, heartwarming and affirming and sure to make an impression on Academy voters as they prepare their final ballots. Kotsur’s speech, and later Marlee Matlin’s, both delivered in ASL, were not captioned on screen, though.
This is something the Deaf community has been trying to get people to understand for a looooong time. #TroyKotsur won Outstanding Actor for his part in #CODA tonight. His speech wasnâ€™t captioned & parts were unseen for the camera to cut away to the audience. Plus, not every deaf+ https://t.co/xfas4pBId3— ë‚˜íƒˆë¦¬ | Natalieâ· ðŸ’œðŸ’œðŸ’œðŸ’œðŸ’œðŸ’œðŸ’œðŸ¤ŸðŸ» (@AFewLanguages) February 28, 2022
This brings us back around to issues of accessibility at awards shows. We saw this with the Emmys last year, which promised a visibly accessible stage and didn’t deliver. You know you have deaf actors among the nominees, why not have a caption editor standing by? Even better, why not open caption the whole show, so that it is truly inclusive, but at the VERY least, why not have someone ready to throw up captions in case one of the multiple deaf actors nominated wins an award? They had an interpreter ready to go, providing voice over in the room that went out on the broadcast, but don’t forget about the deaf and hard of hearing viewers at home, and don’t assume they all speak ASL, because they do not. Open captions are the only way to ensure that everyone can partake in such an uplifting and historic moment.
In the other supporting actor race, West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose cemented her place as the Best Supporting Actress frontrunner. Her SAG win is also historic, as the first Afro-Latina to win, and she’s the first openly queer woman of color to win. And should she win the Oscar, which seems almost a given at this point, she would once again be the first Afro-Latina to win, and she would win 60 years after Rita Moreno became the first Latina to win an Oscar for playing the same role in the same film. You can’t 100% count on the Oscars to deliver the result you want (see also: the Chadwick Boseman/Anthony Hopkins upset last year), but should it happen, that would be SUCH a great moment. If the Academy has any sense—which is debatable—they should set up Rita Moreno to present that award. Everyone loves Rita, so it’s still nice to see her even if DeBose doesn’t end up winning, but can you IMAGINE the moment if she DOES? It would be EXACTLY the sort of high impact moment the Academy wants so badly.