‘CODA’ and Marlee Matlin Among Ruderman Family Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation Recipients (EXCLUSIVE)

Coda Movie French Remake
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The Ruderman Family Foundation selected five more recipients of its Seal of Authentic Representation: Fox’s “9-1-1,” Apple TV Plus’s “CODA,” Freeform’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” and Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” and “The One.”

Marlee Matlin, who is one of the stars of “CODA,” has also received the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion for her lifelong activism for people with disabilities.

“Full inclusiveness and authentic representation is so important to me,” Matlin said in a statement. “My first theatrical film, ‘Children of a Lesser God,’ was the first to star a Deaf actor in a leading role. Though it has been 34 years, ‘CODA’ has broken barriers in the feature world just like my first film, this time featuring not one but three Deaf actors in leading roles, playing each authentically. I hope that this recognition will serve as an example of how films can be authentically cast while being entertaining and profitable.”

“CODA” received the seal not only for casting Matlin, but also for casting Daniel Durant. They played the mother and brother, respectively to the film’s protagonist, who was the only hearing member of the family. “9-1-1” received it for casting Gavin McHugh, an actor with cerebral palsy, in the role of Christopher Diaz, a character that has the same disability. “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is being celebrated for casting Kayla Cromer, an actor with autism, as Matilda, a character with autism. “Never Have I Ever” made the cut for casting Lily D. Moore, an actor with Down Syndrome, as Rebecca Hall-Yoshida, an aspiring fashion designer and the adopted sister of one of the show’s main characters. “The One” received the seal for casting Nadia Albina, whose right arm finishes at the elbow, as Amy Naser.

“It is particularly poignant to see the latest studio productions that are implementing these inclusive practices do so by casting actors with disabilities from across generations, from a trailblazer such as Marlee, to Nadia, to young and up-and-coming actors like Lily, Kayla and Gavin,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “This once again reflects Hollywood’s growing shift toward authentic representation and the entertainment industry’s long-awaited adoption of disability as part of the definition of diversity.

The Ruderman Family Foundation conducted a study in 2016 that discovered only 5% of top show characters with disabilities on TV were played by actors with those disabilities. Over the next four years, the foundation worked hard to bring awareness to this inauthentic casting practice, and in a February 2020 study found that now 22% of characters with disabilities on network television are portrayed authentically by an actor with the same disability. That same study looked at streaming services’ series separately and found there 20% of characters with disabilities were authentically cast.

While there is still a long way to go towards more inclusive casting based on those numbers, the foundation continues to call attention to those who are doing the work by announcing this honor whenever a film or TV series meets the standards needed to receive the seal. (They are two-fold: featuring actors with disabilities in speaking roles of at least five lines, as well as being in or on the verge of general release.) This year, the Ruderman Family Foundation announced three batches of seals. (This is the third.) ​In June, the foundation celebrated Paramount Picture’s “A Quiet Place II,” Legendary and Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla vs. Kong,” Digital Ignition Entertainment’s “Triumph” and Netflix’s “Ginny & Georgia” and “Firefly Lane.” In February, recipients were NBC’s “Will & Grace”, AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead,” Netflix’s “Sex Education,” ITV Studios’ “Emmerdale” and BBC and PBS’s “Call the Midwife.”