It was a good day to be Asian at the 95th Academy Awards on March 13!
Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu bagged awards for Best Actress, Best Male Supporting Role, and a nomination for Best Female Supporting Role, respectively, during the latest Academy Awards. All three had been nominated and won for their performance in the film ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once.’
Michelle Yeoh has become a Hollywood mainstay for high-grossing films like ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ ‘Tomorrow Never Dies,’ and ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’ She rose to popularity with her appearance in the martial arts classic, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,’ where she got to show her fantastic kung fu skills without actually learning martial arts.
Although it has been a long time coming, the 60-year-old Malaysian actress finally got the role of a lifetime with ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once.’ Her stellar performance as Evelyn Wang, a laundromat owner who gets transported to other multiverses of her life, finally clinched a well-deserved Oscar.
Yeoh’s costars in the film also got their own Academy Awards. Ke Huy Quan who first appeared in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ was hailed the Best Supporting Actor for his role opposite Yeoh. Their daughter in the film, Stephanie Hsu, was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress award.
Aside from the wins and nominations received by ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once, there are only a select few Asians who were nominated or won the Oscars. Here’s a rundown of Asian recipients of previous Academy Awards,
This Korean dark comedy film made waves when it won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2019. It is the first Asian film to bag the award and the first film in a foreign language to win.
‘Parasite’ is a film that criticizes the wide gap between the rich and the poor. It tells the story of a destitute family who starts working for an affluent household by conning their way in. At the end of the film, the family had leeched off the rich people they worked for and even lived in the mansion when the owners went on vacation.
The plot was so compelling it bested the rest of the nominations for Original Screenplay, International Feature Film, Best Director, and Best Picture in the 2020 Academy Awards. Even if the film didn’t have any actor nominations, it was still a historic moment that coincided with South Korea’s 100th year of filmmaking.
Steven Yuen for ‘Minari’
Probably best known for his role in the cult classic ‘The Walking Dead,’ Steven Yuen has more than a few films in his belt. Now done fighting zombies, Yuen has come to the Academy Awards with his nomination for ‘Minari’ in 2021.
The film was an ode to immigrants coming to America for greener pastures but finding that everything did not go as they expected. Steven Yuen’s poignant portrayal of a man who wants to support his family through the only means he knows how earned him the Oscar nomination. He is the first Asian-American to be nominated for Best Actor in the prestigious awards show.
Ben Kingsley for ‘Gandhi’
Back in the ’80s Ben Kingsley, or Krishna Pandit Bhanji in real life, paved the way for South Asians in the Oscars. He won the Best Actor category for his portrayal of civil rights icon Mahatma Gandhi.
‘Gandhi’ immortalized the real-life activist’s fight for freedom for his country from the former British Empire. Mahatma Gandhi is best remembered for leading a peaceful revolution of Indians against Britain in the 1930s after almost a century of British Raj.
The film ‘Gandhi is an early biopic of a historical figure that involved the National Film Development Corporation of the country. Kingsley was lauded for his performance and went on to win several other Oscars.
What does this mean for Asian Filmmakers?
In 2015, the Academy Awards was criticized for the lack of diversity in its nominees. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending on social media as fans decried the lack of diversity in the legendary awards show.
Historically, the Academy Awards did have more space for white nominees, with less than 20 Asian artists nominated for actor awards since its conception. But it seems the governing body of the awards show is intent on changing the status quo.
Over recent years, there has been a surge of nominations for other ethnicities at the Oscars. Critics who read the fine print noted that the awarding body has changed a few of its rules to give space for the representation of other countries, seeing as the awards show is known worldwide. Independent media company Vox sums up these changes to include minorities as
- “At least one ‘lead or significant supporting actor’ from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group”
- “At least 30 percent of a cast in secondary and minor roles from two underrepresented identity groups”
- “A main storyline or subject that centers on an underrepresented identity group”
Not only are the rules changed for the cast storylines, but for the crew as well. The awards organization also considers that more people of underrepresented ethnicities be involved in the filming, editing, or animations.
This change in regulations is in direct response to the accusations that the deciding board for the awards favors white people. Other prestigious award shows have also taken steps towards more inclusivity like the Palme d’Or and the Golden Globes.
Times are changing and people worldwide are more connected with technology and social media. So it makes sense that more advocates are speaking out about the representation of minorities. Does this mean more Asians in Hollywood and awards shows? Definitely!
Films like ‘Parasite,’ ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ and ‘Minari’ prove time and again that other countries and ethnicities have been ready for the global market for a long time. Now the red carpet has been laid down, and the spotlight is finally on them and it is more than well deserved.