|‘The Big Sick’ has the honor of winning the 2018 Best Asian/American Movie Award.|
By Ed Diokno
Views from the Edge
It’s awards season. The Golden Globes were just handed out. The writers, actors and directors will be handing out its yearly awards. The Grammys are coming soon, the Academy Awards will be announced.
Although they are better known and have the glitz, glamor and hype, here are the award announcements that you’ve all been anxiously waiting for. Right? The winners for the Fourth Annual Anna Awards, granted to Asian American and Pacific Island artists for their work in 2017 because … except for Aziz Ansari, no one else seems to recognize their work.
The awards are named after Anna May Wong, one of the earliest Asian American actors who had to endure playing the exotic, or the submissive, or the sexual stereotypes of Asian women even though she was born and raised in Los Angeles. She was a star even though Hollywood never gave her the credit she deserved nor the chance to play a role beyond the stereotypes.
Views From the Edge came up with the idea for the awards in 2014 when no Asians were nominated for any award on any of the entertainment award shows. Not much has changed since then. There is no physical trophy or certificate, just a nod in their direction with an attaway tap on their shoulder.
The awards categories change somewhat from year to year depending on circumstances, incidents or the news context of the period. To be clear, there is no statuette, trophy or money attached to the awards and they’re presented for your enjoyment and pleasure. If it raises an eyebrow or two, that’s OK, I’d like to hear from you.
It may be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it says something about the current state of American pop-culture. So, with no apologies to the Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press, we present the Anna Awards.
Best Asian American Movie
The Big Sick based on the true-life story of the interracial courtship of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. For non-Asians the movie is funny because of the performances of the great cast. However, for Asian Americans the familiarity to the cultural misunderstandings takes the movie a notch up to hilarious. On Thursday, (Jan. 11), The Big Sick was awarded the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Comedy.
|‘Columbus’ was not nominated for any of the big awards, but the Anna’s recognizes its brilliance.|
Best Underrated Asian American Movie
Columbus, starring John Cho and directed by Kogonada, is the best movie hardly anyone has seen. It is not for everyone. There are no superheroes, no spectacular special effects, no sex and it is not cleverly hip. It is not Asian American in theme, but its conversations of family, ambition and living to one’s potential are universal. The movie is on several critics’ top movies for 2017 but it failed to generate enough buzz to get the attention of the award shows. With Kogonada at the helm, the film is a feast for the eyes. Every lingering shot is beautifully framed and conveys a mood of suffocating beauty.
Kogonada, who directed Columbus, his first feature film. He created a leisurely-paced essay on architecture and familial relationships. No sex, no action, just wonderful acting by John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson and the rest of the cast. His mood-setting made Columbus, Indiana, with its humid, rainy weather, lush greenery, and architectural masterpieces, the overriding character of the movie. Columbus, the town, could be smothering in a way, not only weatherwise, but culturally and the way small towns can cut off ambition and risk-taking by its residents.
John Cho in Columbus. The veteran actor once again showed his versatility in his restrained but conflicted character. His soul-searching journey never comes to an end but as he comes to accept his fate and what comes next in his own life, he launches another kindred soul on her own journey of self-discovery. It’s a far cry from Cho’s breakout role in the White Castle franchise or as a starship helmsman. It is Cho’s best work.
Hong Chau in Downsizing. Who can argue against nominations for the Golden Globes, SAG and possibly the Academy Awards? The Vietnamese American plays an immigrant who speaks with a heavy accent without resorting to stereotypes. She is the first AAPI actor to be nominated for the major awards since Hailee Steinfeld, a Filipina American, was nominated in 2011 for her role in True Grit. The last Asian American to win an acting award was Haing Ngor, a Cambodian refugee and physician, when he received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of journalist Dith Pran in 1984’s The Killing Fields.
Killing off Captain Philippa Georgiou played by Michelle Yeoh in Star Trek Discovery’s second episode. After heavily touting the first Asian starship captain in the series, teasing about her possible storyline and building excitement in the AAPI community, the show’s writers killed her off before we even got to know her. In the show’s first season, the writers introduced the idea of alternative universes so I’m hoping we haven’t seen the last of her.
Best Stage Performance
Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon. The pride of San Diego, Calif. where she was born, and Charlotte, North Carollina, where she was raised, Noblezada was nominated for a Tony for her portrayal of the title role of Kim in the Broadway revival of the musical that takes place during the Vietnam era. Will her success follow in the footsteps of the first Kim, Tony-winning Lea Salonga?
Best Badass Man of the Year
Daniel Wu in AMC’s Into the Badlands. The action series still has the best choreographed fights on television thanks to the fantastic work of Dee Dee Ku, who did the same for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Wu, who doubles as producer, demands the best from his actors, including a strenuous boot camp before they even begin filming.
Best Badass Woman of the Year
Melissa O’Neil in Syfy’s Dark Matter, in which she plays Two (aka Portia Lin). The Chinese Canadian won Canadian Idol, but her fight scenes on both shows are well fought, fast and with (apparent) force. She doesn’t hold a belt in any martial arts that I know of, but her footwork and body movement could fool me. Unfortunately, Dark Matter went dark this year.
Is He or Isn’t He?
Shazad Latif plays the psychologically damaged security officer Ash Tyler in Star Trek: Discovery. Ash Tyler is not exactly an Asian name so that explains the question mark on his racial origins. Latif, however, was born in London in July 1988 of mixed English, Scottish, and Pakistani descent. Considering Tyler’s troubled past, we’re not sure how long he will last in this universe.
Newcomer of the Year
Kelly Marie Tran in the movie Star Trek: The Last Jedi. This pick was a no-brainer. For Tran, better known for her work on YouTube, her first major break/role is HUGE in more ways than one. She plays mechanic Rose Tico, the first impactful role played by an Asian in the nine-movie Star Wars saga. Tico plays a heroic role in the war between the galactic Empire and the Rebellion and most likely will be back in Episode 9 of the franchise.
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Best Whitewashed Role Award
Finn Jones in Netflix’s Iron Fist and The Defenders. Steeped in Asian culture, taught the martial arts by Tibetan monks, Jones’ character is the ultimate white savior, arrogantly admonishing actual Asians (such as martial arts instructor Colleen Wing played by Jessica Henwick) to the “truth” and “techniques.” Really, what would have been lost to the overall plot if the main role was portrayed by a real-life Asian? Or, someone who doesn’t just go through the choreographed fight scenes by the numbers and looks like he’s had some martial arts training?
Best Stereotype Buster Award
Kelly Marie Tran, wins her second Anna this year for her role in The Last Jedi. Her character, Rose Tico, is a mechanic who performs heroically in the war against the evil Empire. She didn’t resort to being a martial artist, Dragon Lady, submissive or sexual plaything. At last, Asian cosplayers have someone they can dress like without having to having to explain themselves. Rose Tico forever!
Unexpected Appearance of an Asian
Gary Young showed up unexpectedly in Outlander, which partially takes place in the 18th century. The show follows the adventures of a Scotsman and time traveler from the 20th century. This season, the show’s third, moved from Scotland to the Caribbean so for someone who hasn’t read the novels the show is based on, it was a complete surprise that a Chinese character should pop up but there he is: Mr. Willoughby, aka Yi Tien Cho. Apparently, in the books, Mr. Willoughby speaks with a heavy accent and is a racist caricature of a Chinese man, so much so, that book readers cringed at the idea of including him in the TV series. Fortunately, Willoughby’s portrayal by Young is a far cry from the book version.
Formerly known the “Worst Portrayal of an Asian American” award, we’ve renamed it for Mickey Rooney’s embarrassing portrayal of I. Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the actor portraying a character that best exemplifies the negative stereotypes of Asians or Asian Americans. This year, the ignominious award goes to Hank Azaria for providing the voice of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian storekeeper in the cartoon show The Simpsons. Comedian Hari Kondabolu took a hard look at Apu in a documentary, The Problem With Apu. He says the character exploits stereotypes of Indian immigrants. Azaria offered a heartfelt apology to anyone who’s been offended and said changes are on the way. We’ll wait and see.
Outspoken social critic
Chrissy Teigen – We’re considering renaming this award after Chrissy, who has 9.5 million Twitter followers. She keeps winning this category year after year. The super model is not afraid to give us an intimate peek into the highs and lows of her personal life and speaks for many of us against injustice, inequality and racism and all the craziness coming out of the White House. Most recently she fought back against a racist tweeter who tried to link her to the pizzagate scandal, a fake news story created by Trump supporters.
Breakout Artist of the Year
BTS – Who can forget the American debut of the K-pop band at the American Music Awards? It was like the second coming of the Beatles, girls screaming and crying and fellow artists clapping and dancing. The 7-member boy band has racked up accolades this year. Among the most noteworthy of those has been becoming the first K-pop group to crack the top 40 on the benchmark Billboard Hot 100 chart with their track “MIC Drop.” How long will the BTS fever last? Who cares? Enjoy the moment while it lasts.
Truth Be Told
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s opening monologue when he hosted Saturday Night Live didn’t shy away from race relations, stereotypes and his Pakistani heritage. It might have made some people uncomfortable but that’s what happens when truth is spoken. Watch it below:
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