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‘CODA’: Read The Screenplay For Siân Heder’s Movie Propelled By The Cinematic Language Of ASL

Editors note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and celebrates the scripts of films that will be factors in this year’s movie awards race.

After writer-director Siân Heder scored raves for her debut feature film Tallulah, she came to the attention of the producers who held rights to the acclaimed 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. “They were looking to do an American version of the film and really wanted a filmmaker to come in who had a unique take,” Heder told Deadline, noting that she was eager to explore deaf culture and American Sign Language on screen in CODA, the title of which derives from the acronym for children of deaf adults.

Coming from the hearing world, Heder quickly immersed herself in research to find techniques to tell the story of teenager Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her family, and how she learns to balance her sense of responsibility to her family members and her own hopes and dreams.

Heder was initially frustrated by the lack of cinematic forerunners to mine for inspiration.

“There weren’t a lot of movies I could look at where I could see deaf characters on screen,” she said. “I was going back 35 years to Children of a Lesser God.” That scarcity, however, was “very motivating for me, in terms of the story needs to be told and also the character at the center,” she adds. “I think the CODA experience is a very unique one: CODAs are raised within deaf culture, but live kind of between the hearing world and the deaf world. So I was very excited by the specificity and yet the universality of the story.”

Heder ultimately set the story in the Massachusetts fishing community of Gloucester, a region she was intimately familiar with from summering there in her youth. “I knew

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Sian Heder

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