A feel-good movie about a hearing child of deaf adults, Coda took home the Oscar for Best Picture in a shock win on (Sunday night in Los Angeles.
The film on streaming service Apple TV+ beat the much-favoured The Power Of The Dog, a western drama on Netflix that had steamed into the Oscars with the Best Director win for New Zealander Jane Campion and Best Picture prize more or less sewn up.
But all that seems to have been overshadowed by The Slap. A joke by comedian Chris Rock drew a violent, expletive-filled reaction from actor Will Smith, who went on to win Best Actor for sports drama King Richard.
It cast a strange pall over the proceedings as a newcomer platform pipped a veteran company for the night’s top prize and made history.
The first inkling that an upset could be on the cards happened just over a week ago, when Coda, directed by Sian Heder, won Best Picture at the key Producers Guild Of America Awards. Some experts pin the win on strong last-minute campaigning by Apple, while others say the old guard in Hollywood holds a grudge against Netflix for drawing viewers away from cinemas.
That resentment is why the service has earned seven Best Picture nods, starting in 2019 with the biographical drama Roma (2018), but has yet to win one. Apple TV+, while also a streamer, is a smaller player not seen as a threat by the establishment. Launched in late 2019, it is seen as complementing the existing Hollywood system, rather than a replacement for it.
The win is a feather in the cap for Apple TV+, the first for a streaming platform. Streaming platforms, like studios, love awards. Prizes have a cachet with directors, producers and stars, who might be more willing to work with a streamer if it has a track record for winning. And it does not hurt that they might be a huge draw for audiences.
There is some debate about whether the sentimental Coda is a better or worse film than Green Book (2018), another feel-good movie that in 2019 took home a surprise Best Picture win, beating Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which many had tipped to win because it was deemed artistically superior.
Because voting in the Best Picture is open to all voters – unlike in the other categories, which are largely open to those working in the field represented by that category – voters are swayed by more than just high artistic standards.
While it can be argued that The Power Of The Dog and Coda are both non-mainstream – Power because it can be abstract and slow-moving, Coda because it can only be viewed on a less popular streamer (including in Singapore) – Coda’s relatable sunniness and optimism stands in contrast to Power’s brooding tone.
More importantly, Coda, like Green Book and other Best Picture winners such as Spotlight (2015) and Argo (2012), reaffirms positive – more specifically, American values – a trait that general voters like.
Troy Kotsur became the first deaf male performer to win an Oscar when he picked up the Best Supporting Actor prize. His co-star in Coda, Marlee Matlin, was the first deaf performer to win an Oscar. In 1986, she won Best Actress for her role in the romantic drama Children Of A Lesser God (1986).
New Zealander Jane Campion’s win makes The Power Of The Dog the first movie to take home only the Best Director prize since 1968, when Mike Nichols won for romantic comedy The Graduate (1967).
Science-fiction epic Dune, directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve, earned six wins, mostly in the technical categories. It has the most wins of any film this year.
The following is a list of winners in key categories.
Best picture: Coda
Best director: Jane Campion – The Power Of The Dog
Best actor: Will Smith – King Richard
Best actress: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
Best supporting actor: Troy Kotsur – Coda
Best supporting actress: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Best original screenplay: Belfast
Best adapted screenplay: Coda
Best animated feature film: Encanto
Best international feature film: Drive My Car – Japan
Best visual effects: Dune