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Asian creators are finally getting recognition at Oscars: Here's why it matters

Chloé Zhao made history as the first Chinese woman to win Best Director and Best Picture at the 93rd Academy Awards, a testament to the impact immigrants have on American media.  – Photo by The Academy / Twitter

This past weekend, you may have been 1 of the 9.85 million people who tuned in to watch the Oscars. But, for the rest of us who opted to join the 59 percent drop in viewership of this pageantry of an awards show, here’s a recap of some of the progress that actually happened in terms of Asian representation in the media.

For one, Chloé Zhao became the first Chinese woman and the first woman of color to win Best Director for "Nomadland." Instead of being lauded for her accomplishments, she experienced censorship throughout China. Nevertheless, Chinese fans were determined to celebrate her wins and did so with a social media revolution.

Bloggers and influencers alike performed a minimal amount of subterfuge, i.e. they turned Zhao’s picture on the side and blurred out her name to circumvent the censors. The reason Zhao was censored was due to her alleged claim in an interview that China was a place “where there are lies everywhere.”

Regardless, I think this can be considered a win in terms of Zhao’s accomplishments and the social media posters’ success in combating Chinese censorship.

Additionally, Yuh-Jung Youn Won — a South Korean actress who played the grandma in “Minari,” a film about a family of Korean immigrants — became the first Asian woman since 1957 to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, according to The New York Times.

And, of course, she accepted her speech in the most mom-like way possible: “I’d like to thank my two boys who make me go out and work … This is the result because mommy worked so hard,” Youn said in her acceptance speech of her Oscar win.

But, honestly, these awards pale in comparison to what these two ladies actually accomplished — which may explain why the Oscars aren’t gaining that many viewers today. What really matters is less the statuette itself but the actual movies that these two women directed or starred in, respectively.

In the case of Zhao, she told such an epitomic American story, despite the fact that some people would consider her telling an American story inauthentic, as she was born in China. This shows, more than anything, that the American story is both a lived and an adopted experience.

In her time in America, Zhao has come to identify, if at least in part, as American — she’s lived as an American. But she doesn't give up her Chinese identity just because she has lived here — in fact, she's adopted them both.

With the recent mass shooting in Atlanta of six Asian American women and the wave of anti-Asian hate attacks, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we're not the “other." Rather, we're a part of the same lived and shared narrative as anybody else in America, and Zhao proves this point beautifully in her film.

Youn’s accomplishments are also much deeper than the surface-level diversity she may represent on the Oscars stage. She took part in a story that resonated with immigrant audiences everywhere, audiences that were beginning to lose hope in the American Dream.

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the U.S. population has had the smallest increase in population growth (7.4 percent over the last decade) since the 1930s, according to The New York Times.

A major part of this decline can be attributed to the decrease in legal immigration during former President Donald J. Trump’s term in office, and it doesn't come as a surprise. After all, immigration has been a proven way to provide new members of the workforce in a nations’ labor markets.

There’s one of the reasons we call it the American Dream — it's both the dream of immigrants to make it in America and America’s own dream to continue to be the best nation it can be with the help of its people, no matter where they come from.

Yet, there are fewer Korean immigrants these days and even fewer reasons for people to immigrate to America, what with the anti-Asian rhetoric so continuously blasted on America’s airwaves since the beginning of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by the Trump Administration.

This just makes the story of “Minari” and Youn’s compelling, introspective performance as the grandmother of the family all the more important. If anyone is going to convince people that America is still the land of opportunities, it’s Youn and the entire “Minari” cast.

And, yet, if the Oscars aren't enough to convince you of the waves that the Asian community has been making throughout America’s media industry, then look no further than the trailer for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” starring Simu Liu as the titular character, Shang-Chi. He also played Jung in “Kim’s Convenience.”

Though “Kim’s Convenience,” a story about another Korean immigrant family making their livelihoods in a Canadian convenience store, just ended — causing fans internationally to collectively cry — Liu will return to the big screen come Sept. 3.

Not to mention he’s always going to be on some form of our screens, popping up with occasional plugs and comments on “subtle asian traits,” a popular Facebook group for the offspring of immigrant Asian parents everywhere.

The Oscars are one thing, but getting our very own Asian superhero? That’s undoubtedly epic.

While the jury is still out as to whether the movie itself will be that representative, I’m personally just excited to know that Asian representation in itself has spread to all aspects of media.

It’s the very thought of being able to connect and understand the stories of the people you see on the big screens that make the movies so worthwhile. Don’t just take my word for it. Take the words of the Asian actors and directors and creatives themselves who take the time to put their stories on those screens for us — their audience.


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