HomeAsian AmericansOscar diversity report card: Asians & Black nominees score big

Oscar diversity report card: Asians & Black nominees score big

Photos by A24

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer

This year’s Oscar nominations provides the possibility for some Asian and Asian American firsts, and does fairly well on diversity. Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland and Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari both had six nominations as did Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7.   Netflix’s “Mank” led with 10 nominations. 

For the first time in its history, there are two women nominated for Best Director: Emerald Fennel for Promising Young Woman and  Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. The first woman nominated for Best Director was Lina Wertmüller for the Italian language film, Seven Beauties in 1977.  Jane Campion of New Zealand received a nomination for The Piano (1994) and the Academy nominated Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2004).The first winning woman was Kathyn Bigelow for Hurt Locker.  More recently, Greta Gerwig garnered a nomination for the 2018 Lady Bird. If Zhao wins she would be the first woman of color to win and the second women. 

No Asian American writer has ever won for Best Original Screenplay, although numerous AAPI writers have been nominated-Indian American M. Night Shyamalan (1999 The Sixth Sense),  Japanese American Iris Yamashita (2006 Letters from Iwo Jima), Filipino American Ronnie del Carmen (2015 Inside Out) and Pakistani American Kumail Nanjiani (2017 The Big Sick). A win by Lee Isaac Chung for his Minari would be a first.  Black writers have been nominated four times with Jordan Peele winning for the 2017 Get Out

A woman has already won Best Adapted Screenplay (Frances Marion for The Big House in 1929). The last woman to win was Diana Ossana (shared with Larry McMurtry) for Brokeback Mountain. The last woman to win by herself was Emma Thompson for the 1995 Sense and Sensibility.   Last year, Maori Taika Waititi won for Jojo Rabbit, but Zhao would be the first Asian woman to win. 

For Best Actor, if you don’t include Egypt  (Rami Malek who won for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in the 1918 Bohemian Rhapsody) or  Syria (F. Murray Abraham who won for the 1984 portrayal of Antonio Salieri in Amadeus) as part of Asia, and don’t believe that Yul Brynner (for the 1957 The King and I) was part Mongolian,  then Steven Yuen is the first Asian American actor to be nominated in this category. Ben Kingsley is British with Asian Indian ancestry and won for the 1982 Gandhi.  Israeli actor Chaim Topol  was nominated for the 1971 Fiddler on the Roof.

South Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Minari and if she wins she’d be the first South Korean actress to win. The first Asian woman to win was Miyoshi Umeki for the 1957 Sayonara. Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo was nominated for the 2003 House of Sand and Fog, Israeli-born Natalie Portman was nominated for Closer (2004) and Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for Babel in 2006. 

Asian directors Hiroshi Teshigahara (Woman in the Dunes), Akira Kurosawa (Ran) and Asian American M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) were nominated. Taiwanese director Ang Lee  has been nominated three times, winning for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Life of Pi (2012), but losing for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). Last year, Bong Joon-ho won for the South Korean film Parasite

This year, the documentary film category includes two foreign language films, the Romanian language Collective which is about botched healthcare and Spanish language The Mole Agent which is about care for the elderly along with Crip Camp, My Octopus Teacher and Time.

National and LA County demographics compared to Oscar nominations. MENA stands for Middle East and North Africa. By Jana J. Monji

Looking at the following categories (Best Picture, Best Documentary, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Animated Feature) with a total of  63 nominations, I looked for diversity in the representation of women, women 50 and over, race/ethnicity, religion and disability. Each category had five nominations except for Best Picture which had eight.

Like the Golden Globes, the under-representation this year is not of Black/African Americans or Asian Americans. The most under-represented minority was the largest, Hispanic/Latino which had only one nomination under Writing (Original Screenplay) for Judas and the Black Messiah. Of the four writers (Will Berson, Shaka King, Keith Lucas and Kenneth Lucas), one, Shaka King, can be considered Latino. King’s mother’s family is from Barbados and Panama, and his father’s family was from Panama as well. Yet in the past Latino directors and even a Spanish language film have won top honors.  Five Latin American directors have been nominated with three directors winning: Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity (2013) and Roma (2018), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu  for Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015) and Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water (2017). 

Of course to be nominated is one thing. Winning is another. Black directors have been nominated six times, but none have won. 

From the nominations, Black nominees represented 27 percent of the nominees. Ethnic Asians 17 percent. Both numbers are higher than their representation nationwide or in Los Angeles County. For a full breakdown of the statistics, visit AgeOfTheGeek.org.

The 93rd Academy Award Ceremony will take place in-person at Los Angeles’ Union Station and the Dolby Theatre on April 25 and will be broadcast by ABC starting at  5 p.m. PT. In addition to airing on TV, the Oscars will be available to live-stream on ABC.com and the ABC app, which can be accessed by signing in with a participating TV provider.

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