The Oscars Were Everything All at Once for Asians

The 95th Academy Awards was a celebration heartfelt emotion and of Asian diversity with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” winning seven awards (out of the eleven nominations), including Best Picture (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Director(s), Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan  and Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis.

Kwan became the fifth person of Asian descent to win Best Picture. Previous Best Picture winners of Asian descent include:

  1. Ronald L. Schwary (Lebanese descent) for “Ordinary People” in 1980.
  2. Thomas Langmann (Lebanese descent) for “The Artist” in 2011.
  3. Bong Joon-ho and Kwak Sin-ae (South Korean) for “Parasite” in 2019.
  4. Chloé Zhao (Chinese) for “Nomadland” in 2020.

Although Yeoh has been called the first Asian woman to win Best Actress, that is only if one discounts Vivien Leigh (“Gone with the Wind,” 1939,  and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” 1951)  who was born in British India is rumored to have been  part Armenian and Parsi Indian and Cher (“Moonstruck,” 1987) who is of Armenian descent.  The CIA Factbook places Armenia in “Southwestern Asia, between Turkey (to the west) and Azerbaijan.” Natalie Portman who was born in Israel, won for “Black Swan” in 2010. Yeoh is the first Southeast Asian and non-White passing Asian actress to win. One way of expressing this has been “identifies as Asian.” 

Quan ís the second Asian to win in this category, with Haing S. Ngor (“The Killing Fields”) the first (1984). 

In sixteen categories of the 23, people of Asian descent were represented in seven of the categories: Best Picture, Best Director(s), Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Documentary Short and Best Original Song.  That is 44 percent and way over the representation in the national population (5.9 percent) or the Los Angeles County population (15 percent). 

Yet out of 12 categories where women could have been represented, only three or 25 percent did. EEAAO was one of three films (“Tár,” and “Women Talking”) nominated for Best Picture that had female leads. Sarah Polley won for  Best Adapted Screenplay (“Women Talking”). Asian Indian director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga (both women) won for the documentary short “The Elephant Whisperers” about a couple caring for an orphaned baby elephant. The song “Naatu Naatu” from the  “RRR” won Best Original Song for M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose. 

  1. Best Picture: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
  2. Best Director: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
  3. Best Actor: Brendan Fraser for “The Whale”
  4. Best Actress: Michelle Yeoh
  5. Best Supporting Actor: Ke Huy Quan 
  6. Best Supporting Actress: Jamie Lee Curtis
  7. Best Original Screenplay: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
  8. Best Adapted Screenplay: Sarah Polley for “Women Talking” 
  9. Best Animated Feature Film: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
  10. Best International Feature Film: “All Quiet on the Western Front”
  11. Best Documentary Feature: “Nalvany”
  12. Best Documentary Short: Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga for “The Elephant Whisperers”
  13. Best Live Action Short: Tom Berkeley and Ross White for “An Irish Goodbye” 
  14. Best Animated Short: Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud for “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” 
  15. Best Original Score: Volker Bertelmann for “All Quiet on the Western Front”
  16. Best Original Song: M.M. Keeravaani (music) and  Chandrabose  (lyrics) for  “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR”

Curtis was competing against fellow cast member Stephanie Hsu as well as Hong Chau (“The Whale”), Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”).  There were some complaints on social media about Jamie Lee Curtis’ win, some under #OscarsSoWhite, but Curtis represents diversity by age (over 50) and because she is half Jewish. Prejudice against Jewish Americans was touched upon by another film nominated for Best Picture, Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.” The average age of Best Supporting Actress nominees is 41, with five of the the last seven winners over 50.

Moreover, three of the last seven winners in that category were Black. The votership hasn’t changed so much in one year, giving the #OscarSoWhite complaints a bitter taste of sour grapes. Something similar happened earlier this year (#BAFTASSoWhite) at the BAFTAs when Cate Blanchette won (over Viola David for “The Woman King,”  Danielle Deadwyler  for “Till,” Michelle Yeoh for EEAAO, Ana de Armas for “Blonde” and Emma Thompson for “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande) even though the same votership had given the now disgraced Will Smith a Best Actor and Ariana DeBose (who is both Black and Latina) a Best Supporting awards the year before. Likewise at the last Oscars, DeBose had triumphed last year over African American actress Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”), Irish actress Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter”), English actress Judi Dench (“Belfast”) and American actress Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”). 

#OscarsSoWhite and #BAFTASSoWhite should not mean that a non-White person if nominated should win like an affirmative action acting award. There was some question to the amount of time Curtis had on screen. This tweet broke things down. 

Curtis by no means is an Oscar winner with the least amount of screen time, even for that category. That Oscar winner would be Beverly Straight for her five minutes in the 1976 “Network.” 

Further, since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2009 with Oscar-winner Robert Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man,” no acting Oscars have been given to any of the Marvel movies. Angela Bassett’s nomination for Best Supporting Actress(“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) was the first acting nomination for any MCU film and while other MCU projects have received nominations for visual effects, sound editing, sound mixing, makeup and hair,  only “Black Panther” has received any Oscars. Bassett was a long shot for this specific performance. In 2019, “Black Panther” won for Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter), Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson) and Best Production Design. Carter picked up another Oscar this year. 

Women and Latinos were underrepresented this year. This year, Black/African Americans did not get represented in the wins for the 16 categories I mention above,  but Carter became the first Black woman to win two Oscars. Moreover, in 2022, Black/African Americans were overrepresented (21 percent compared to the Black/African American population of 13 percent nationwide and 9 percent in Los Angeles County) in those categories while Latinos were still underrepresented (14 percent in Oscar wins while comprising 49 percent of LA County and 19 percent of the US population).

Unlike last year’s troubled Oscars, this year’s was characterized by the earnest joy, of dreams fulfilled for a man who almost gave up on acting and for a woman who kept on acting and neither letting age get in their way. And with the Daniels only being 35, there’s a promise of more quirky films in the future and a multiverse of endless possibilities, even in Hollywood. 

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