Where Are the Oscar Nominations for Asian Actors?

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Jan 17, 2020

Director Bong Joon Ho is having a major, well-deserved moment this year with numerous film award wins for 2019’s class thriller “Parasite” (Golden Globe, Cannes Film Festival, National Society of Film Critics Awards to name just a few). The film is also the first South Korean movie to receive Academy Award nominations—a total of six, for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film. He is not the only Asian artist to receive award accolades this award season as Awkwafina became the first Asian-American actor to win a Golden Globe in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy category for her role in Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.”

But even with those successes—and the release of popular films like “Crazy Rich Asians” that center Asians—VICE staff writer Bettina Makalintal‘s January 17 article asks, “Why Doesn’t the Academy Nominate Asians for Best Actor?” Makalintal argues that if films such as “Parasite” are recognized, then why aren’t its actors?

"I think there’s a sort of cultural and racial myopia about what emotion might look like in other cultural and racial contexts," Sylvia Chong, associate professor and director of American studies at the University of Virginia, told VICE, adding: 

When you hire someone to be an Asian in a supporting role, you don’t see the work that goes into performing that: You see that as them being themselves. In the earlier part of the century, people preferred Blackface or Yellowface actors over people from the actual race because what they were doing was seen as requiring actual craft.

Nancy Wang Yuen, author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” agreed in an interview with VICE that as long as Asians are seen as "other," being recognized as award-winning performers will remain challenging:

If the stereotype is that Asians are not expressive and the entire enterprise of acting and the reward of the Oscars is about being expressive, those stereotypes work against Asian actors. There’s variation in expression, just as there is variation of expression in Western cultures, but there’s racism against Asians: the idea that all Asians look alike, the inability to distinguish between Asians and [different] Asian cultures. Those old racist ideas that Asians have to face in the general culture definitely impacts how they fare in popular culture.

In addition to Chong’s and Yuen’s points, Makalintal writes that an additional hurdle for Asian actors is layered in the complexities they experience within and among the Asian community:

Judging by the roster of what’s hitting theaters, Hollywood—and the people talking about its successes—seem stuck in the problematic loop of conflating "Asian" with ‘East Asian,’ boiling down the "Asian-American experience" to one phrase that doesn’t actually suit all. At best, it’s proof that progress is slow; maybe, in a few years, Southeast Asians might have a "Farewell" moment, too. At worst, however, it reinforces boundaries around whose representation matters, and alienates people who are already cast aside within the "Asian" category.”

Read the complete article here.