Ethnic Asians at the Golden Globes 2021

Ethnic East and South Asians could make history at the Golden Globes this year. As expected, Chloé Zhao received a Best Director – Motion Picture Golden Globe nomination for Searchlight Picture’s “Nomadland” which also earned lead actress Frances McDormand a Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama nomination.  The film was also nominated for  Best Motion Picture – Drama and Zhao was nominated for her screenplay. Two British Asian men received best actor nominations: British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and British Indian Dev Patel (“The Personal History of David Copperfield”) for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

“Nomadland” follows a widow’s life as a migrant worker who lives in a van after the factory in her small company town closes. “Nomadland” received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Zhao adapted the screenplay from Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book: “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.”

Zhao was one of three female directors nominated in a category that is usually dominated by men (The two male directors nominated were David Fincher for “Mank” and Aaron Sorkin for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” ). The other two are Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman) and Regina King (“One Night in Miami”). These three female directors become the sixth, seventh and eight women directors to ever be nominated. Previously nominated female directors were Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay and Kathryn Bigelow. No East Asian ethnic woman has won in this category.

Zhao is also nominated for Best Screenplay- Motion Picture along with Fennel, Fincher, Sorkin and Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton (“The Father”).

In Best Motion Picture – Drama, “Nomadland” faces off against “The Father,” “Mank,” “Promising Young Woman” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” In all “Nomadland” has four nominations, tying with “Promising Young Woman” and “The Father.” “Mank” has six nominations and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has five.

An East Asian ethnic male director has won Best Director and had his film win Best Film before. Director Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” and “Brokeback Mountain” won Best Film (Drama) in 1995 and 2005, respectively.  Ang Lee won Best Director in 2000 for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain.”

Patel and Ahmed both were previously nominated for Golden Globes: Patel for “Lion” (Best Supporting Actor) and Ahmed for “The Night Of” (Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film).  In the past, John Lone was nominated in 1987 for “The Last Emperor,” losing to Michael Douglas (“Wall Street”) in the Best Motion Picture – Drama. No actor of East or South Asia extraction seems to have ever been nominated in the Best Actor – Musical or Comedy. A win for either Patel or Ahmed would be a first.

Ahmed’s “Sound of Metal” is about a heavy metal musician who must deal with losing his hearing. Other nominations for Best Actor – Drama are Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”), Gary Oldman (“Mank”) and Tahar Rahim (“The Mauritanian”).

Patel’s “The Personal History of David Copperfield” is based on the Charles Dickens’ novel, “David Copperfield,” with Patel playing Copperfield.  Patel competes again Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), James Corden (“The Prom”), Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) and Andy Samberg (“Palm Springs”).

The film that has been stirring controversy in the Asian American community, “Minari,” also received a Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language nomination and competes against “Another Round” (Denmark), “La Llorona” (Guatemala/France), “The Life Ahead” (Italy) and “Two of Us” (France/USA). During the two Q&A panels I watched, the cast and director did not addressed the controversy, however, it should be noted that the film production chooses the submission category. The decision was not made by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. None of the actors were nominated from this category in the acting categories, including Sophia Loren (“The Life Ahead”).  “Minari” is about a Korean family that moves to Arkansas to start a farm while also sexing chicks and how they weather the elements and obstacles.

“Farewell My Concubine” (Hong Kong) won this category in 1993, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Taiwan) in 2000, “Osama” (Afghanistan) in 2003, “Paradise Now” (Palestine) in 2005, “Letters from Iwo JIma” (USA) in 2006, “Waltz with Bashir” (Israel) in 2008, “A Separation” (Iran) in 2011 and “Parasite” (Korea) in 2019.

Netflix’s “Over the Moon” was nominated in the category of Best Motion Picture – Animated and competes against Universal’s “The Croods: A New Age,” Walt Disney Picture’s “Onward” and “Soul” and Cartoon Saloon’s “Wolfwalkers.” This category has only been open since 2006. No Studio Ghibli film has been nominated in this category. In 2018, Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai” was nominated, but “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” won. “Over the Moon” is a US-China computer animated feature about a girl who decides to go to the moon to meet the goddess Chang-e and during the journey helps Chang-e reunite with her true love while the girl learns to accept her own mother’s death and her father’s wish to remarry.

From Israeli actress Shira Haas became the first Israeli to be nominated for Best Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for her role in “Unorthodox.” British-Israeli Sacha Baron Cohen was nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” He previously won in this category in 2006 for “Borat.” Egyptian American Ramy Youseff was nominated again for his television comedy series “Ramy,” a category he won last year.

No East Asian or South Asian ethnic actor has won more than one Golden Globe. Egyptian actor Omar Sharif has won two (“Doctor Zhivago” and “Laurence of Arabia”). Syrian American F. Murray Abraham won in 1984 for his role in “Amadeus.”

The Golden Globe ceremony is usually held in the beginning of January, and will air live on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. PT on NBC. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will return to host the Golden Globes from two different coasts. The two  previously emceeing the ceremony from 2013 to 2015.

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