Will Smith’s Oscars attack of Chris Rock may be the slap heard around the world. But for those in the deaf community, it had a silencing effect that they find to be heartbreaking and anger-inducing.
The smack happened on the same night that “CODA” — about the hearing child of two deaf parents as she struggles to help navigate out with her family business and pursuing her own musical dreams — made waves, snagging Best Picture and two other Academy Awards.
It was a seismic moment for the deaf community, as the movie also featured hearing-impaired actors including Troy Kotsur, who won Best Supporting Actor.
“We have a great thing with this movie, and Will Smith’s slap superseded it,” said Bob Hiltermann, a deaf actor who’s appeared in movies such as “Children of a Lesser God” and TV shows including “Hawaii Five-O.”
“I was looking at the news for information about ‘CODA’ and all I saw everywhere was the slap,” he said. “Will Smith apologized to the Academy but he should have apologized to ‘CODA’ for drawing away so much attention. He stole the spotlight that should have been present on people who worked on ‘CODA.’”
Jennifer Delora, who has worked as an actress, producer and technical advisor, has never allowed defeat to hold her back. And she refuses to let Smith’s behavior spoil the moment. “Tears came out of my eyes when Troy won,” she told The Post.
But the slap “took attention away from where it should have been,” Delora said. “I was disappointed … We have been working so hard to have fair representation in the movie business. Right now I am hoping for the world to see the skills of deaf individuals. I hope this win will change people so that they see deafness differently. The word is out on the beauty of making things more inclusive for deaf people.”
While the media obsesses over what Delora calls “the silliness” of the Smith situation, “the deaf community is focused on Troy’s great performance,” she added. “We won’t let bad behavior take away from the historic moment.”
Indeed, the show ended on a beautiful image, as the audience signed “deaf applause,” waving their hands in the air.
CJ Jones, a deaf actor, writer and camera operator who appeared in “Baby Driver” and an early short version of “CODA,” was in Alberta working on “The Last of Us” for HBO when Smith stole the show.
“I am choosing to not let that overshadow the greatness of ‘CODA’ winning for best picture,” said Jones, whose Sign World Studios will be putting on a film festival this June devoted to entries with themes of deafness. “It’s a bummer but I know that Troy’s speech will not be forgotten.” (Kotsur wrenched emotions as he signed, “My dad was the best signer in our family, but he was in a car accident and he became paralyzed from the neck down … [Dad]you are my hero.”)
“’CODA’ will be back in the spotlight once the Will Smith incident blows over,” Jones told The Post. “It was a silly thing, and I think a movie that touches hearts will have the longevity.”