Exclusive: When CODA star Troy Kotsur won the Academy Award last year – becoming the first Deaf male actor to do so – he paid tribute to his father.
“Dad, I learned so much from you,” he said on the Dolby Theatre stage. “I’ll always love you. You are my hero.”
To My Father, a short documentary set to premiere at the Tribeca Festival on June 8, explores the relationship between Kotsur and his father Leonard, a man who mastered ASL to communicate with his son and “be the best possible father to Troy.” Tragically, when Troy was a senior in high school, his father was struck by a drunk driver, an accident that left Leonard Kotsur with life-threatening injuries.
“He became paralyzed from the neck down,” Troy said in his moving Oscar acceptance speech, “and he no longer was able to sign.”
The documentary from nonprofit content studio Emergent Order Foundation (EO) is directed by Sean Schiavolin (Beyond Homelessness: Finding Hope) and produced by John Papola (At The Fork, The Pursuit) and Troy Kotsur.
“The lessons Troy learned from his dad allowed him to turn the tragedy into triumph,” notes a release about the film. “To My Father, and Troy’s personal story, are truly inspiring and contain valuable lessons that can help each of us overcome the setbacks and challenges we all inevitably come to face in our own lives.”
In a statement, Kotsur said, “My dad raised a Deaf child in a time when the roadmap was not as available as it is today, but he navigated it with love. Crafting this film was an emotional journey. These are the stories that are important for us to share, and it is an honor for me to tell the world about my father. I’m the man that I am today because of my dad and this film is a tribute to him. Through this story, I hope to pass along pieces of the inspiration and wisdom that helped me through my most difficult times.”
Producer John Papola, co-founder and CEO of EO Foundation, noted, “To My Father is the story of Troy Kotsur overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you and seeing yourself as the hero of your own adventure rather than a victim of circumstance. You need to look no further than Troy and his father for the best example for how to overcome adversity and take control of your life.”
“When Troy Kotsur gave his moving Oscar speech,” director Sean Schiavolin observed, “he invited the world into the remarkable story of him and his dad. I wanted this film to capture that story and inspire reflection on the power of sacrificial love.”
Kotsur studied theater, film and television at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and following graduation he toured with the National Theatre of the Deaf. His bio notes, “Previous to CODA, Troy was most known for his successful and highly prolific theater career, which includes multiple roles in the Tony Award winning run of Big River on Broadway, performing at the Mark Taper Forum, and a role in the 2015 LA Drama Critics Circle Award nominee Spring Awakening.”
Kotsur’s first major film role came in The Number 23 alongside Jim Carrey, and in 2016 he took on his first leading role in the independent feature Wild Prairie Rose. He made his directorial debut with 2013’s No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie, which brought a positive message to Deaf children. In television, Kotsur gained recognition in the Star Wars universe for creating the Tusken sign language, which was used in both The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian, a series in which he also appeared as an actor.
Watch the trailer for To My Father above.