Apple beats Netflix to Best Picture Oscar with CODA

28 Mar 2022

Still from CODA. Image: Apple

A hard-fought campaign by the tech giants has seen Apple emerge as the first streaming platform to take Hollywood’s top trophy.

Apple is now an Oscar winner after the Academy Award for Best Picture was presented to CODA on Sunday (27 March).

The film depicts the coming-of-age story of a hearing teenager – the titular CODA, or ‘child of Deaf adults’ – who acts as an interpreter for her parents, balancing this responsibility with her own aspirations to study music.

Apple acquired the distribution rights to CODA after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021. The tech giant spent $25m for the global deal, a record-breaking sum for a film from the indie festival.

Then labelled ‘An Apple Original Film’, CODA was made available on the Apple TV+ streaming platform last summer alongside a limited cinema release.

Producers Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger were presented with the Best Picture Oscar at a ceremony held in person in Los Angeles.

“Team CODA created a profoundly beautiful movie, a story of hope and heart that celebrates our differences,” tweeted Apple CEO Tim Cook after the win. He also congratulated the producers “and all involved in these historic wins”.

Breaking barriers

CODA is remarkable not just as the first film from a streaming platform to take Best Picture but also the first film with a predominantly Deaf cast to win the US film industry’s top award.

Apple celebrated a clean sheet for the film, winning in all three categories in which it was nominated. Best Supporting Actor went to Troy Kotsur and Best Adapted Screenplay to Siân Heder.

Kotsur is the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar, the first overall being his co-star Marlee Matlin who won Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God in 1987.

“We join our teams all over the world in celebrating Siân, Troy, the producers, and the entire cast and crew for bringing such a powerful representation of the Deaf community to audiences, and breaking so many barriers in the process,” said Apple’s head of worldwide video, Zack Van Amburg.

“It has been so rewarding to share this life-affirming, vibrant story, which reminds us of the power of film to bring the world together.”

Netflix nominations

The Oscars marked a fruitful end to the awards season for Apple, which also celebrated wins for CODA at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the BAFTAs and many more. The film was an award winner from the start, taking home four accolades from Sundance including the Grand Jury Prize. It is the first such Sundance winner to take the Best Picture Oscar.

While Netflix’s The Power of the Dog had the most award nominations of any film on the night at 12, the top prize eluded Apple’s streaming rival once again, though Jane Campion was awarded Best Director for the film.

The two streaming giants competitively campaigned for this year’s Oscars. The New York Times reports that Apple spent up to $25m promoting CODA and Insider revealed a 40-person awards campaign team at Netflix.

Netflix films have received seven Best Picture nominations in total while Amazon, the first streaming service to get the nod from the Academy, has received two. But it was beginner’s luck for Apple, which launched its on-demand service in late 2019, and became the first streaming platform to take the coveted award in its debut at the ceremony.

Another historic win went to Ariana DeBose who became the first open queer person of colour to win an acting Oscar. She took home Best Supporting Actress for her role in the remake of West Side Story.

West Side Story director Steven Spielberg has previously spoken out against the inclusion of works from streaming platforms in the running for Oscars.

Previously, films could only qualify for the top Academy Awards if they were released at a cinema in Los Angeles County. This changed for the 2021 ceremony, which followed prolonged periods of closed cinemas due to Covid-19 restrictions. Relaxed rules allowing films that debuted on streaming or video-on-demand platforms, as long as they were intended for theatrical release, were extended to the 2022 event.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.