(Bloomberg) -- In an industry that loves a good tale of overcoming adversity, Apple Inc.’s “CODA” has emerged as a surprise front-runner to win best picture at the Oscars on Sunday.

A little over a year ago, the film about a high schooler forced to choose between a music education and staying home to help her deaf family won top honors at the Sundance Film Festival and was sold to Apple for a record $25 million. Still, “CODA” was seen as a longshot, even after scoring one of the 10 best-picture nominations last month.

Now all that’s changed. The Producers Guild of America gave “CODA” its top award last week, and the director of its chief competition, “The Power of the Dog,” is getting heat for some controversial remarks. “CODA” is now tied as favorite to win best picture at the Academy Awards on March 27, according to the website GoldDerby.com, which tracks Oscar predictions.

“‘The Power of the Dog,’ ‘Belfast’ and ‘West Side Story’ are solid by any measure,” said Richard Licata, a former NBCUniversal executive who advises Hollywood studios on award campaigns. “But all share downbeat themes, whereas ‘CODA’ was a tribute to the power and resilience of family.”

If “CODA” wins best picture, it will mark a number of firsts: the first film from a streaming service to win Hollywood’s top prize, the first recipient of Sundance’s grand jury award to achieve that honor, and the first best-picture winner to feature a mostly deaf cast. Noteworthy too: Neither “CODA” nor “The Power of the Dog,” a Netflix Inc. film, has generated meaningful box office revenue.

The picture, from American filmmaker Sian Heder, is an English-language remake of the 2014 French movie “La Famille Bélier.” Philippe Rousselet, one of the original movie’s producers, and fellow producer Patrick Wachsberger approached Heder to direct a new version for an American audience.

Sign Language

In the process of writing the story, which was shot in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Heder learned American Sign Language, which accounts for just under half of the dialog, according to interviews she gave before the film’s Sundance premiere. 

“CODA,” which stands for Child of Deaf Adult, stars Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, a teen grappling with the pressure to help her family’s fishing business while trying to fulfill her own passion for music.

Also produced by a partnership of France’s Pathe Films and Vendome Group, “CODA” has three Oscar nominations: best picture, a best-supporting actor nomination for Troy Kotsur in his role as the father, and best adapted screenplay. Other than Ruby, all of the family members are deaf, including her mother, played by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin.

The film’s rise to front-runner status was cemented when it won the top award from the Producers Guild. That group’s recognition correlates closely with the ultimate winner of the best-picture Oscar.

Struggling Family

But what got “CODA” there was its uplifting story of a family struggling through trying circumstances and emerging stronger, playing alongside today’s real-life headlines about the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The campaign for ‘CODA’ has also been based on the support the film has received from organizations that raise awareness for the deaf community, “a world we know very little about,” Licata said. “I think that’s what’s giving it a groundswell.”

The director of “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion, may have also given “CODA” an inadvertent boost after winning the Critics Choice Award for best director. Joking about the scarcity of women directors, she called out tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, whose family biopic “King Richard” is also a best-picture nominee, for not having to “play against the guys, like I have to.” 

The joke struck some watchers, including the writer Roxane Gay, as derogatory, and Campion later apologized.

Like the cast of many nominated films, the principals from “CODA” have been busy appearing at other awards shows and events that lead up to the Oscars, creating an aura of togetherness that can only boost the film’s chance. Like the Rossi family in the film, they’re the underdogs to root for.

“Family perseverance was a theme in the real world,” said Erik Davis, managing editor of Fandango, the theater ticket site. “The cast has felt like a family in real life, going together to every ceremony, every Q&A. There’s a narrative there that’s important too.”

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