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Oscar-winner Troy Kotsur reflects on his historic victory for ‘CODA’

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: One of the most moving moments from Sunday's Oscar ceremony was the award for best supporting actor to Troy Kotsur, making him the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar.

The film he appeared in, "CODA," also went on to win the Oscar for best picture.

Jeffrey Brown has our look for Canvas, our arts and culture series.

Jeffrey Brown: In "CODA," Troy Kotsur plays Frank Rossi, a deaf fisherman in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

His wife and son, played by actors Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant, are also deaf. But his daughter, played by Emilia Jones, is not, and the affecting family drama focuses on the tensions in that dynamic.

The term CODA stands for child of deaf adults. Kotsur himself, now 53, has been deaf since birth. He's a veteran stage and screen actor, but this is his first moment in the national "Spotlight."

In his acceptance speech, he addressed the moment's larger meaning.

I spoke to Troy Kotsur and interpreter Justin Maurer earlier today, and started by asking what he meant when he said, "This is our moment."

TROY KOTSUR, (through interpreter): You know, I think, in the outside world, they tend to overlook us. And so when I received the Oscar, I wanted to really dedicate it to the deaf and disabled community, as well as the CODA community, to make them feel good, make them feel seen and recognized.

And so I really hope that there'll be more diversity and more storytelling in Hollywood in the future.

Jeffrey Brown: Acting is already a tough life for anybody, right? Give us a sense about life as a deaf actor, the barriers or frustrations you run up against.

TROY KOTSUR, (through interpreter): Well, really, for deaf actors, the biggest frustration or barrier is the communication barrier, because, of course, I can't hear. I don't really use my voice to communicate. I use sign language.

So that's been my barrier to really find a role that would really help them think outside of the box and collapse that box. And with our film "CODA," I mean, we just won three Oscars, best picture, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor. So I think that Hollywood's finally ready to open their hearts and minds to us and really finally be able to tell stories that are empathetic and can shift and transform cultural perspective.

So, I think this is such a powerful community moment, that we, as a deaf community, we have really been waiting for this moment for so long.

Jeffrey Brown: I noticed, at the Oscars, you went out of your way to thank the deaf theaters where you had the opportunity to hone your craft as an actor.

Tell us why it was so important to you and how it was important.

TROY KOTSUR, (through interpreter): I'm so glad you asked me that question because I was so tempted to name them all during my Oscar speech, but, of course, my time was so limited.

I was working for over 35 years developing my craft, working with different directors, actors, writers. And I worked with several directors again and again, and I learned so much, and I had so many tools in my toolbox that really helped me develop my craft as an actor.

And my hope and dream was to be involved in TV and film, but there was more access for me to perform as a deaf actor on the theater stage. And, also, it was great working with and collaborating with so many hearing actors who never had experience working with the deaf actor.

You know, when TV and film roles came up, I had the privilege of being able to traverse both worlds, both the stage and TV and film. So it was so nice to have had that variety of experiences.

Jeffrey Brown: You have said that this recognition gives you a new confidence, and I think you said it was the beginning of a new journey.

Towards what? What roles do you want to take on? What do you hope to be able to do now?

TROY KOTSUR, (through interpreter): I'm extremely excited for this new chapter in my life. It's a bit strange, because, in the past, I really had to chase these auditions down.

And after these nominations and awards, the tables are turned and they're now giving me these offers and these scripts and these meetings. And so it's been amazing.

And so, really, I would love to play a historical deaf figure from the past. We have so many rich stories, really a treasure trove. There was a deaf boxer. There was someone who developed technology for the deaf. And, believe it or not, football, the football huddle was created by the deaf.

And so many people are oblivious to our rich treasure trove of history. So I hope to tell many of these inspiring true stories.

Jeffrey Brown: And, finally, let me ask you.

"CODA," the movie, gets at some of the tensions between the hearing and deaf, even within one family. What is your hope that people that the hearing community takes from this film? How do we bridge the divisions?

TROY KOTSUR, (through interpreter): Our film is perfect, because I feel like we're finally able to connect the deaf and hearing worlds.

And the character Ruby played by Emilia Jones, she represents the CODA, which is right at the center. So, she is able to communicate in sign language at home and in English with the outside world and is really the bridge to communication between both of them.

And most folks don't understand what the life of a CODA, or child of a deaf adult, is like. And, finally, our film shows this real culture. People thought sign language is limited and, oh, poor deaf people.

But, no, we are a rich culture. We have rich family life. And hearing people are finally able to witness that on the big screen. And so you have deaf people that work hard, they have fun, they love their family, and, of course, they go through struggles to change everyone's perspectives.

It's not only deaf people, but there's so many commonalities. And it's a universal story. I loved, of course, having vulgar sign language and dropping F-bombs on the big screen too.

So, finally, I feel like Hollywood's finally accepting us.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, Troy Kotsur, thank you so much. And congratulations again.

TROY KOTSUR, (through interpreter): Thank you for having me, Jeffrey. It's my honor.

Hats off to you. Have a great day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A big move forward.

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