Historic Oscar win for 'CODA' and three RI actors. There’s always a local angle.
"CODA," which earned a historic win for Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday night, has several ties to Rhode Island.
The film tells the story of Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) an aspiring singer who is the only hearing member of her deaf family, hence the titular acronym’s meaning, children of deaf adults. Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the movie explores Rossi’s struggle between pursuing her passion for music and her obligations to family and their fishing business.
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Rhode Island College alumna Marilyn Busch played Nina, a fisherman’s wife who works with Rossi’s mother, played by Marlee Matlin, an Oscar winner and deaf activist.
Rebecca Gibel, who has acted at Trinity Repertory Company, played Joanne Biles, an at-sea monitor who the federal government insists having on the Rossis' boat to observe.
Central Falls' Gary Berdugo and Providence College graduate Bryan Sabbag also made an appearance in the film.
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For each, an Oscar win for a film in which they’d acted was a first.
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“I feel like I’m walking on air," Sabbag said. "It was a surprise to see how much recognition the movie finally got.”
Gibel, who was traveling in Portugal, went to sleep Sunday night hoping that Troy Kotsur, who plays Rossi’s father, would win best supporting actor.
“And then woke up and there were 60 texts on my phone, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! It must’ve happened,’” Gibel said.
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Kotsur made history as the first deaf man to receive an acting Oscar. Until then, Matlin had been the only deaf person to win the honor. Busch reflected on what the win meant to the deaf community, which is now seeing more representation in film.
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“Until this film, I do not believe that many actors have been given the opportunity to portray deaf culture and family life realistically on screen — by actual deaf performers — it truly was a milestone for deaf representation,” Busch said in an email.
“This film, these actors and this director created a piece of art that allowed hearing audiences a glimpse into what being deaf is like on a daily basis,” Busch added. “Truly one of the things that elevates this film from just being a heartwarming family story to groundbreaking is its accurate representation of deaf culture and family life.”
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Rebecca Gibel: 'It shows audiences are hungry for smart storytelling'
Gibel echoed the significance of such representation, also acknowledging the film’s best picture Oscar as a win for small budget films.
“I feel like this is a story that is world-changing in terms of the industry for so many reasons, so my first thought was I hope this really solidifies the opening of doors for representation in film,” Gibel said. “Also I hope it really shows that small independent films are viable [commercially], that it shows audiences are hungry for smart storytelling."
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Gibel also appeared in the black comedy “Don’t Look Up,” which received an Oscar nomination. She is now about to enter rehearsals for “Fairview,” a Pulitzer-winning play at Trinity Rep.
Additionally, Gibel will appear in a second season of dramedy series “Bridge and Tunnel,” and “Salvation,” a movie inspired by a Pentecostal pastor’s attempted murder of his wife in Alabama. Gibel stars as the wife.
She and Busch are also awaiting the opening of “Salem’s Lot,” a film in which both have roles. It hits theaters in September.
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Busch will also appear in two Netflix movies, “The Mothership” and “The Noel Diary.” She is also working on a lead role in “Everything I Had Known About You,” an indie film. It is set to appear at festivals next year.
"CODA," which was released in theaters and on Apple+, was the first film from a streaming service to win best picture. In addition to Kotsur's best supporting actor award, the movie also won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: 'CODA' RI actors had roles in Oscar-winning film deaf community