If you love movies or know who won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, you may already know about CODA, the Apple TV+ original film that took the top prize and has gained legions of fans for its well-told story of a teen in transition who bridges the hearing world for her parents and brother, who are deaf and learning how to let her move into adulthood.
It’s a story that also won the heart of civil rights attorney and jewelry designer Alexis Ander Kashar. Kashar, who is deaf and comes from a multigenerational deaf family, played her own role to support CODA through her jewelry brand, RoseBYANDER. If you watched the Oscars, you likely saw her LoveSign design on actor Troy Kotsur as he accepted the Best Supporting Actor award.
Through RoseBYANDER, Kashar has supported and amplified the movie, its actors, and its award-season success from the start. Kashar, who calls actor Marlee Matlin one of her best friends, says the experience of watching CODA develop and now soar is meaningful to her as a person who is deaf as well as for many other individuals and families.
“There has never been a better time to be deaf and to witness such a historical moment or milestone for the Deaf community,” Kashar says in an email interview with JCK. “This journey has allowed me not only to witness how the world responded to the movie but also to the gifts offered by the Deaf community and culture.”
Her story starts much like CODA’s main character in one way: Her parents also are deaf, and her family’s experiences helped determine Kashar’s career path.
“Through my life experiences including obstacles in obtaining access to my own education, I became a passionate advocate for accessibility at a young age. It was only then very natural for me to become a civil rights and special education lawyer,” Kashar says. “For over two decades, through advocacy and litigation, I fought to pave the way for a more accessible world. My special education practice focused on individual cases and my disability rights work was about creating systematic changes where I could make a difference for the community.”
Kashar currently remains involved in the community in her role as the president of the board for the New York School for the Deaf and as a new member of the U.S. Access Board as a presidential appointee.
Her additional role as a jewelry designer happened through her desire to create a physical memento to connect her to her family, Kashar says.
“After my third child was born, I took some time off to focus on raising my children full time, and it was during this time that my mother, sister, and I had very special pendants made as a family heirloom,” Kashar said. “The purpose of the pendants is to celebrate the significance of the I Love You symbol in American Sign Language [ASL] and to celebrate all the gifts offered by Deaf culture and community.”
Kashar says the pendant turned out to be an extremely important conversation starter.
“Once I started to wear my pendant, I made a most unexpected discovery. I became more connected to the world in new ways,” she says. “I could not believe how many people would stop me to admire the exquisiteness of the pendant, to share their own experiences of what the I Love You sign meant to them. I was told personal stories of how parents around the world sign it to their children as an immediate way to connect, others appreciating the beauty of American Sign Language, and lots of families and friends using it as a way to show their love.”
She founded RoseBYANDER to start making more jewelry with that symbol. That led to her work with CODA and Matlin directly. The two bonded during their motherhood journey; both have kids who are considered CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults), Kashar says.
“I knew when she was filming CODA in Massachusetts how inspired she was working with such a talented group of people in a very accessible environment with a predominantly deaf cast, which was extremely rare. Given Marlee’s push for authenticity and representation that was incorporated into the movie such as the casting for the role of the father, I knew this movie would be very special,” Kashar says.
“I have watched the journey of CODA from the outset from when RoseBYANDER was asked by Apple TV+ to host one of the first movie premieres. From there, I attended the first award show with Marlee in November 2021 and was there with her during the Oscars,” Kashar says. “Having Troy Kotsur accept the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in CODA, the first deaf male and second deaf actor to win an Oscar while wearing a LoveSign on his lapel, was an incredible moment for me. It told his story, allowed him to share love on a global stage, in an instance of historic importance, during a pandemic and war when the world needed it most.”
Kashar also has had the opportunity to share her LoveSign with other important figures, including first lady Dr. Jill Biden.
“When first lady Dr. Jill Biden received her gift of the LoveSign pendant, it represented not only her allyship but also the love she has in the work that she does for education and for families; to wear this symbol tells all those you meet that you share a love and a bond that is unspoken,” Kashar says.
As her jewelry business moves into new product categories and designer collaborations, Kashar says she hopes to share the LoveSign worldwide.
“We are all in the fight for authentic representation; whether it is through Hollywood and brands such as my company, it is critical to recognize the importance of supporting authenticity,” Kashar says. “We all believe in the importance of inclusion, but only if we have authentic representation. Supporting a brand like ours or a film like CODA reinforces the need for authenticity.”
Top: Alexis Ander Kashar is an attorney, jewelry designer, and advocate for the Deaf community through her work, family, and friendships. She helped promote CODA through her friendships with the actors and with her signature LoveSign jewelry. (Photo courtesy of RoseBYANDER)@jckmagazine
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