After a year in which Asian Americans were increasingly targeted in racist attacks due to racist reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s Oscar nominations were warmly welcomed by many. Six of this year’s Oscar contenders were Asians or Asian Americans. And for the first time, there were two Asian Americans in the Oscar’s director race: Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) and Chloe Zhao (Nomadland). Youn Yuh-jung (Minari) was the first Korean woman to be nominated for any acting award.
While Steven Yeun (Minari) was the first Asian American actor to be nominated for best actor, Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) was the first Muslim to be nominated for best actor.
Chloe Zhao scripted history at the 93rd Academy Awards as she became the first woman of colour and the second woman in the Academy Award’s history to win best director. Zhao, who wowed Academy voters with her third film Nomadland, a semi-fictional drama about the hidden community of older, van-dwelling Americans who call the open road their home, follows in the footsteps of Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the glass ceiling for woman directors in 2010 when she won the prize for The Hurt Locker. Zhao called making the film a "crazy, once-in-a-lifetime journey."
South Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Minari. The actress played a grandma who comes from Korea to help look after her grandson. She brings with her the ‘minari’ seeds that provides the film its title. "Me being here, I cannot believe it," Youn said. She joked about people mispronouncing her name, adding, "Tonight you are all forgiven."
The Academy Awards , since its first ceremony in 1929 has recognized just a handful of Asian performers in acting categories. While no Asian performer has won an Oscar for Best Actress, no actor of Asian descent has won for Best Actor since Ben Kingsley for his performance in Gandhi (1983). And for the Best Supporting Actress and Actor categories, only one Asian actor has earned each accolade: Miyoshi Umeki, who was of Japanese descent, for her role in Sayonara (1957), and Haing S Ngor, who was of Cambodian descent, for his role as a journalist in The Killing Fields (1984).
Asian movies such as The Last Emperor, Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi did win Oscars for various categories but none of the actors in the films received acting nominations.
After the 2015 and 2016 #oscarssowhite spotlight, the Academy promised to double the number of people of colour in its voting body by 2020. And while the organization is still 81 per cent white, this year’s awards seem to represent a sea change. In fact, Asians seem to be slowly taking the reigns on the Oscar stage after Bong Joon-ho's historic win last year with Parasite.