The First Deaf Man to Win an Oscar


By Sage Vespia Kerwin , Staff Writer

On Sunday, March 27th, the country gathered  around their TV’s to witness the most popular film award show in the world known as the Oscars.  What they didn’t know is that they would witness history being made–in more ways than one.

Troy Kotsur was born in 1989 in a small town in Arizona. Since his youth, he always had a passion for acting, but to other people, there seemed to be something that inhibited this talent: Kotsur was born deaf. Despite this, his disability didn’t bother him or get in the way of what he loved, and throughout his life, he took on many roles both on stage and on camera. He went on to study acting at Gallaudet University and even landed a role in a Tony Award-winning stage production of Huckleberry Finn and popular shows like Disney’s The Mandalorian. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kotsur describes his journey to stardom and how he was denied many opportunities because of his disability. He was turned away from many opportunities because people found his disability inconvenient for themselves, or downplayed his ability to act. For most of his career, he was struggling to make ends meet, but this changed when he was cast in the award-winning film CODA.

CODA details the inspiring and moving story of a deaf fisherman family with only one hearing daughter, and their love for one another even when the daughter decides to pursue music rather than a career in the family business. Troy Kotsur plays a loving and understanding father, Frank Rossi. Kotsur notes that this movie was so important to him because, for the first time, he got to act with a cast that was deaf as well. He found himself being taken seriously by the film industry and his talent finally being recognized as it should have been years ago. His love for CODA is part of what made his acting in the film excellent. Upon its release, the film gained attention from critics for its brilliant screenplay and beautiful story, and likewise, Kotsur attracted critics for his stirring and emotional acting skills. Sooner than he thought, Kotsur and the film found themselves on the road to the Oscars. 

The big night arrived, and the Academy Award for Best Picture was given to CODA. Kotsur notes that this moment was important to him not only because his film had won an award, but because the world was told that it couldn’t downplay the abilities of people just because of their disability. It showed critics that real deaf actors could succeed in displaying a story just as well as anybody else. But it didn’t end there–Kotsur was stunned when they announced that the award for Best Supporting Role belonged to none other but himself. He went up on stage to accept his well-deserved award, and in a beautiful and tear-jerking speech made fully in sign language, he got to tell his story as the world listened.

He began his speech by expressing his thankfulness for being allowed the opportunity to show his acting talent to viewers around the world. He goes on to describe how he was even invited to the White House for a tour, and jokes about wishing to teach the President some “dirty sign language”, but was told not to by co-actor Marlee Martin. Kotsur goes on to thank director Sian Heder for “bringing the deaf world and the hearing world together”, and quotes a novel by Steven Spielberg: “the best director is one who can communicate.” His speech takes an emotional turn as he explains that his late father was the best signer in his family before he got into a car accident and was paralyzed from the neck down, permanently inhibiting his ability to sign. He thanks his father for his love and support before walking offstage with his award.