By Ed Diokno
It’s award season again. Peoples Choice, Emmys, Oscars, there’s a whole lot of categories in which Asian American and Pacific Islander actors WERE NOT nominated. Not because they have any less talent, but mostly because of the lack of opportunities for meaty roles in big and important movies, television and stage shows.
The biggest award show of them all, the Academy Awards, is coming up this weekend and a handful of AAPI, African American and Latino Americans were picked to present the coveted trophies, a deserved honor in itself, but ostensibly, to add a little color to the #OscarsSoWhite proceedings.
To make up for the lack of recognition for Asian American and Pacific Islander performing artists, there is always the highly anticipated awards handed out by Views From The Edge, which debuted last year. This year, we have had to abandon the (admittedly self-promoting) Eddie Awards from last year because – as we belatedly learned – there is already an Eddie Award sponsored by the American Cinema Editors named after the legendary editor, Eddie Shore.
After much deliberation, this year we decided to rename these awards to the Anna Awards, named after Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American star in Hollywood. Despite the lack of acting opportunities for Asian American actresses, she actually turned down a role because it cast Asians in a bad light. Hooray!
You might notice that most of the awards were given to TV actors. That’s because the motion picture industry has not caught on to the changing demographics of the American audience. The 2015 television season, including streaming media, is historic in the number of offerings featuring AAPI actors. Let’s hope this diversification of the entertainment industry is more than a trend.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The categories are made up entirely by whimsical me and really have no serious artistic merit. They are subject to change at a moment’s notice or a sudden change of heart or because I didn’t have my morning cup of coffee. The Anna Awards considers the performances by AAPI artists in all the performing arts in the year 2015. Enjoy!)
Envelope, please! The Anna Awards for 2016 go to:
Best Director: Hands down, it has to be Cary Fukunaga for directing Beasts of No Nation, an engrossing drama about Africa’s child soldiers. His direction helped showcase Idris Elba’s talent enough to earn Elba acting nomination for the Screen Actors Guild. Critics say Beasts was snubbed and should have been nominated for Best Picture. Fukunaga also got an Emmy for directing the critically acclaimed first season of True Detective for television.
Best Newcomer: Priyanka Chopra hit American TV screens in a big way this season on her hit show Quantico. The Bollywood actress has made the transition with ease and U.S. audiences have shown their appreciation by voting her Favorite Actress in A New TV Series in the Peoples’ Choice Awards. She will also present at the Academy Awards .
Best Actor Hardly Anyone Has Seen: Joel de la Fuente for his portrayal of the Japanese Chief Inspector Kido in Man In The High Castle. This excellent alternate history story based on the classic Philip K. Dick novel, is on Amazon so it is not accessible to great number of viewers. But if you have Amazon, you’ve got to tune in to watch veteran actor de la Fuente make his calculating smart character, a bad guy, almost sympathetic, always a step behind the American rebels and subtly showing his doubts about the Nazi persecution of Jews.
Best Asian American Family Portrayal: This is a tough one but it is a nice problem to have. For the first time in history we have more than one Asian American family to consider: Josh Chan’s family in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Dev Shah’s family in Master of None, and the Park family in Dr. Ken. However, this year the award will go to the Huang Family on Fresh Off The Boat. The parents (Constance Wu and Randall Park) especially are excellent. I like the inside jokes that only Asian Amerian viewers would catch like the scene where the family is watching the show “All-American Girl” that starred Margaret Cho and one of the sons turns to the mother with the comment, “Still no shows about Asians.” The best comedy and pathos comes from the friendly way the writers and producers approach race by not hitting you over the head. In FOTB, you can find yourself laughing but then realize the not-so-funny “truth” of those race-based situations.
Is he, or isn’t he?: Bobby Morley, who plays Bellamy Blake in The 100. He’s one of those Filipino Australians who has found success in Hollywood (actually the show is taped in British Columbia). His character is not race-specific and it appears he uses makeup on his face to look a bit lighter (whiteface?). But if you Google his mugshots, his browness shines through enough to make you ask, “Is he half-Asian?”
Best Tweeter/Personality: For the second year in a row, the award goes to Chrissy Teigen. The irreverent don’t-care funny Tweets have made her a go-to during the awards shows. When her husband performs, watch out for the camera to pan over to her. Whether co-hosting F.A.B. fashionista TV show or swaying lip-synching celebrities in Lip Sync Battle, she is sure to come up with biting remarks, comebacks and repartee. I love her response to haters.
Best Badass Man: That would have to go to Daniel Wu, star of Into The Badlands on AMC. He’s also one of the producers of the martial arts epic that takes place in a future dystopian America where guns are outlawed. That premise allows for a lot of swordplay, kicks, punches and acrobatic jumps and somersaults, a perfect imagined world for the Hong-Kong style of spectacular choreographed fight scenes. The opening fight scene is a classic.
Best Badass Woman: It was a pleasant surprise to find Michelle Yeoh on the last season of Strike Back, where she played the villainess, a spy for North Korea. She was able to demonstrate her physicality and familiarity with martial arts moves in the TV shoot’em-up in marvelous fight scenes. All-in-all, she was portrayed an evil character not to be messed with. Runner-up: Agent May as played by Ming Na Wen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For some unfortunate reason, the show shied away from Agent May-centric stories this season.
Let’s See More Of Him: This is a first-time category also. Because this past year we’ve seen a number of roles that put more facets on the
Asian American image. One of the most intriguing characters on TV is that of Job as played by Hoon Lee in Banshee, which will end its run this spring. The former Ninja Turtle appeared in the Broadway production of the King And I over the summer but obviously, this talented actor has got more to give.
Best Performance in A Musical: Obviously. it must go to Vanessa Hudgens for her role in the Grease Live production. Her portrayal of a brassy, but vulnerable, Rizzo drew raves and industry admiration. Her solo rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” was made even more poignant because Hudgen’s father died less than a day before Grease Live went on the air. We just need to keep the Filipina American actress away from National Monuments.
Most Buzz & Angst: This is the first year for this category (because I didn’t think of it last year.) but I had to find a way to mention The Walking Dead’s non-death of Glenn Rhee as played by Steven Yeun. In terms of buzz, it generated as much, if not more, discussion than Jon Snow’s non-death in Game of Thrones. For weeks, the Walking Dead producers kept us guessing the fate of everyone’s favorite good-guy in the zombie apocalypse. Is he dead? Is he alive? What about Maggie? How could he survive? Was that his guts being eaten by zombies? The questions and theories kept coming up on discussion boards, talk shows, columns and blogs (including this one).
Best Broadway Performer: Lea Salonga in Allegiance reminded Broadway why she was the first Asian American artist to win a Tony, as she played the main female role in the musical loosely based on the experiences of actor and social media master George Takei, who made his first appearance on the Great White Way in his role in this show. With Allegiance now shuttered on Broadway, let’s hope that Salonga doesn’t wait so long to return to the New York stage.
Best non-Asian role played by an Asian: That would be Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Hamilton, the wife of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, in the Broadway musical Hamilton. The hip-hop musical is the hit of the season and might very well give Soo a shot at the Tony award, Broadway’s equivalent to the Oscar.
Best Asian American zombie: Well, let’s just say, “the only Asian zombie” that we know of. Susan Tran played the nice, little old lady who liked to putter around in her garden next door to the main characters’ house in Fear the Walking Dead, the West Coast spinoff of The Walking Dead. It is a relief to know that Glenn (Steven Yuen) from the original series, might not be the only AAPI to survive the zombie apocalypse. Travis Manama, who plays the main protagonist Cliff Curtis, is Maori American. Unfortunately, Susan won’t be returning in the second season.
Best Show Not Being Watched: The winner (in this category, winning is losing) is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I don’t get it. It is one of the most original and entertaining shows on American TV this season. Is it because CW is the least watched network? Is the title scaring off a lot of people who might otherwise enjoy it? It is not because of the diverse cast, their talent abounds in the musical rom-com, the imaginative original songs and production numbers, an Asian American romantic lead in Vincent Rodriguez III and the show introduced viewers to TV’s first Filipino American family, the Chan’s. But the ratings are miserable – last not only in its time slot but last in Monday night’s prime time. A second season is questionable so be sure to watch it while it is still on the air. Runner-up is Truth Be Told featuring Filipina American actress Vanessa Latchey, who plays a Filipina married to a Euro American. Race relations was supposed to be key part of the show which wanted to be edgy but the writing didn’t match its expectations resulting in lackluster reviews.
Best Asian role played by a non-Asian: We should call this the Emma Stone award. Her portrayal of a hapa in the movie Aloha came right after
last year’s #OscarsSoWhite fiasco so the criticism heaped upon the actress and director was enough for director Cameron Crowe to issue an apology. No amount of spray-on tan could convince anyone of Stone’s character’s mixed-race origins. Unfortunately, I expect this award to have more nominees next year.
Best Stereotype Buster: Aziz Ansari as, well as the character Dev Shah in Netflix’s groundbreaking show Master of None. In the series, Ansari plays Dev Shah, a millennial Asian American actor struggling to make ends meet while juggling his love life, his relationship with his parents and battling Asian stereotypes – in other words, a well-rounded human being with flaws and hang-ups. Good news for fans, the show will have a second season, but not until 2017. Runner-up honors go to Rene Gube for playing Father Brah, a hip, Filipino American priest in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Most Groundbreaking Role: Vincent Rodriguez III, who, as Jose Chan, is the object of the obsessive “love” of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s title character played by Golden Globe winner Rebecca Bloom. The CW romantic comedy musical is struggling to find an audience despite glowing critical reviews. But hey, an Asian American romantic leading man is historic. Through the season we’ve seen the Josh Chan character rounded out as a not-too-bright, but sensitive young man that you wouldn’t mind to having a beer with.
Worst Portrayal of an Asian American: For the second year in a row, Matthew Moy’s character Han Lee in Two Broke Girls wins this ignominious award. The character is a short, desexualized Korean diner owner with a heavy accent and is often the butt of jokes. Producers have tried to round out Han Lee by occasionally allowing him to go out on dates. The only redeeming grace for this negative stereotype is that he occasionally is given a biting response towards the other characters.
(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)
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