While K-culture has taken over the world with popular pop bands and Netflix hit shows, there is still some way to go for Asian talents to be recognised on one of the biggest entertainment platforms in the world: Hollywood
While the 2022 Oscars will forever go down as ‘The One where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock’ (Smith has at the time of writing apologised to Rock), there were other things happening.
For starters, Asian representation continued its momentum through a few nominations and some wins.
Japanese road-drama flick Drive My Car nabbed Best International Feature. But the film based on a short story by Haruki Murakami lost to Coda for both Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Disney’s Southeast Asian princess Raya and the Last Dragon and queer Afghanistan refugee animation Flee were competing for Best Animated Feature, which went to Encanto.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (with stars Simu Liu and Awkwafina) was also in the running for Best Visual Effects, though it was eventually taken by Dune.
Speaking at the South Asian Excellence event at United Talent Agency ahead of the Oscars, Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas said she has already seen a change from the time she first arrived in Hollywood.
“We’re going to count how many brown people are in the room. And it was just us,” Chopra Jonas recalled of a Golden Globes after-party with Aziz Ansari.
“We, after a very, very long time, have 10 nominees,” she said.
South Asian film talents have had quite a landmark year at this edition of the Academy Awards.
Actor-producer Riz Ahmed and director Aneil Karia won Best Live Action Short through The Long Goodbye. Ahmed has an additional nomination for Flee, which he served on as executive producer.
Producer Joseph Patel’s Summer of Soul won Best Documentary Feature. Directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, along with co-executive producer Anurima Bhargava, share a nomination in that category with Writing With Fire.
These recognition, mixed with the hype from the recent sweep Squid Game did at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the momentum from the multiple Oscar wins for Parasite in 2020, seems to suggest progress for Asian visibility is on track.
But the celebration of South Korean films has not translated into appreciation for any other Asian films this year. Drive My Car and Bhutan’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom were the only two Asian films up for Best International Feature.
The win for Drive My Car in this category seems fairly muted compared to the Smith-Rock fiasco, despite it only being the 13th Japanese film nominated by the academy.
Asian films have fared better in the Best International Feature category, which was called Best Foreign Language Feature until 2020. Even then, European output has won 80 per cent of the time.
Furthermore, only 14 non-English films have been considered for Best Picture to date.
Clearly, there is still a long way to go. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started in 2015 and not much appears to have changed since then for talents of colour.
Actress Halle Berry recently opened up about how her 2002 Oscar win in the Best Actress category “didn’t open the door” for black actresses.
“The fact that there’s no one standing next to me is heartbreaking,” she said.
The numbers from studies also point to the same issue for the Asian community.
UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity report states that Asians are among the most underrepresented groups, based on the top 200 theatrical and all major streaming, English-language film releases from 2021.
Asian actors took only 6.4 per cent share of all top film roles and made up 5.6 per cent of all film directors.
Industry news of late has not been positive either.
Malaysian screenwriter Adele Lim also backed out of the Crazy Rich Asians sequel over pay disparity, where it was revealed she was paid almost 10 times less than her co-writer Peter Chiarelli. Writer Amy Wang has since taken over the reigns of the project.
The film Licorice Pizza, which was up for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director in this year’s Oscars, also faced criticism for its depiction of Asian female characters.
The coming-of-age tale featured scenes where white male characters mocked Japanese women’s accents and struggled to tell them apart.
A restaurant owner in the film speaks to his two Japanese wives in Japanese-accented English, and both respond to him in Japanese without English subtitles. Another character also mixes up the two women.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s flippant responses have not made the situation any better.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Huh?’… It’s funny because it’s hard for me to relate to,” Anderson said in an interview to Indiewire. “I’m lost when it comes to that. To me, I’m not sure what they—you know, what is the problem? The problem is that he was an idiot saying stupid shit?”