Taking home the award for Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards, Sian Heder made history as just the third female filmmaker to take home the coveted prize in the nearly century-long history of the iconic ceremony. With the second of such victories only coming last year, this consecutive success for female filmmakers shows a modern maturity to the Academy Awards that show continued progress to innovate and diversify.
Long-ignoring major independent films and turning a blind eye to significant successes for black and female filmmakers, the ceremony has been caught in the middle of a public outcry with #OscarsSoWhite becoming the rallying cry for a generation of film fans demanding change ever since its inception in 2015.
Attempting to clamour back its public image, the Academy announced in 2020 that they had doubled the number of female members from 1,446 to 3,179 and had tripled their members of colour from 554 to 1,787, diversifying their pool of voters to better represent modern America. Such did bring change, with the likes of Moonlight, Get Out, BlacKkKlansman and Judas and the Black Messiah having been honoured in the past five years.
The problem is, whilst Heder’s CODA tackles some refreshing themes, taking on the story of a teenage girl who finds herself wrestling with her own ambitions of becoming a singer as well as her expectations to look after her deaf family, the film is ultimately packaged in the same whimsical tone that has plagued the Academy Awards for generations.
Played out like a straight-to-TV musical drama, CODA is built from the structure of countless other coming-of-age movies, adopting a rather technically bland approach to its subject matter, from an ordinary colour palette to cinematography that lacks true inspiration. Barely toeing the line between being cringeworthy and endearing, Heder’s script can often dip its toes in the former category, feeling like an overly melodramatic version of an episode of Glee that was binned for being too saccharine.
More than ready to tug and yank on the emotional heartstrings as and when it pleases, CODA feels like the kind of Best Picture winner that the Academy would’ve recognised at the start of the new millennium, when it was purporting to be a board of progressive thinkers, only to award Best Picture to ‘important’ films such as Paul Haggis’ Crash.
There are several things wrong with the fact that CODA won the award for Best Picture, with one of the most significant reasons being that the subject that it suggests it’s so proficient in was mastered one year earlier when Sound of Metal by Darius Marder was shockingly snubbed of Oscar recognition. Dramatically superior whilst offering more challenging questions to preconceived notions about the deaf community, Marder’s film is the type of project that should’ve been celebrated by the Academy, particularly in comparison to CODA which merely dips its toes in the thoughtful analysis that Sound of Metal explores.
Whilst CODA is certainly not the worst film to pick up the award for Best Picture, with a win for director Sian Heder being particularly significant, it does show a disappointing return to monotonous form from the Academy. In a year of such blockbuster innovation as Denis Villeneuve’s gamechanger Dune, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s heartfelt human drama Drive My Car and Jane Campion’s crucial gender conversation The Power of the Dog, is CODA really deserved of Best Picture?
Put simply? No.