There’s a theme in CODA — the film that swept the Sundance Film Festival and will now premiere in theaters and on Apple TV+ on August 13 — to which many an LGBTQ+ teen can relate. When 17-year-old Ruby (played perfectly by Emilia Jones, above) is torn between love of her family (who are all deaf, except her) and who she really is and wants to be (a singer, something they can’t understand), she struggles to bridge the gap between what her family wants and what she needs. She hides it as long as she can, but even they see that something is happening. (And, yes, there’s a boy, but really that story is secondary at best, and Ruby codes queer throughout, so it’s easy to read the character as such.)
While she spends much of her time acting as an interpreter, navigating the hearing world for her working-class parents (The L Word’s Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur, pictured below), Ruby sneaks time to join the high school choir. For a girl who talked “deaf” in elementary school, her ability to sing is a surprise to many. With the encouragement of her choir teacher (Eugenio Derbez in a role that should have been gay), she considers applying to a prestigious music school (which would mean leaving her parents).
This film, which was the first to win all the top drama prizes at Sundance, is really about a girl falling in love with something so foreign to her parents that it seems like they’re losing her to something they don’t quite approve of (how do you understand music if you can’t hear?) Ruby, like many kids before her, faces agonizing choices, but it’s the journey of the discovery that makes the film great.