At last year’s Oscars, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director and Youn Yuh-jung became the first South Korean performer to win an acting Oscar, two landmarks for Asian representation at the Academy Awards.
They were part of a welcome and long-overdue uptick in diversity at the Oscars. In 2021, nearly half of the 20 acting nominees were people of color, a record high. That included three Asian nominees: Youn, along with her “Minari” castmate Steven Yeun, as well as “Sound of Metal” star Riz Ahmed. In addition, for the first time, more than one woman was nominated for Best Director (Zhao for “Nomadland” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman”). Zhao also wasn’t the only Asian director nominated, with “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung among the five Best Director nominees.
However, looking at this year’s slate of Oscar contenders, it’s not likely the nominees, which will be announced Feb. 8, will match last year’s watershed moment for diversity and representation. In order to help put diversity and representation top of mind for Oscar voters, two Asian advocacy organizations — Gold House and the Coalition for Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) — have teamed up for their second annual Gold List. The list, released Tuesday, highlights Asian-led and Asian-created films of 2021 in the hopes that last year’s Oscar season wasn’t “just one little blip” but the beginning of “a long-term movement,” as Gold House’s executive director, Jeremy Tran, said in an interview.
“My biggest fear is that the voting bodies and awards community will say: ‘Oh, yeah, you got ‘Parasite’ two years ago. You got Chloé Zhao last year. You’re good for the next 10 years,’” he said. “That’s my biggest fear and something we’ve seen happen in the past.”
In 2021, Gold House and CAPE created the list because movies by and about Asians and other people of color traditionally haven’t been as likely to get the multimillion-dollar “For your consideration” campaigns and substantial backing from Hollywood studios and awards marketing firms. This year, Tran had hoped to see some progress, given the string of recent successes by Asian filmmakers and actors. But he’s disappointed that, for example, Marvel’s box office hit “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Leung, hasn’t received much awards attention compared with previous blockbusters. Another film on this year’s Gold List is A24’s “The Green Knight.” Starring Dev Patel and Sarita Choudhury, the slow-burning and visually daring fantasy drama earned rave reviews from many critics but hasn’t generated much Oscar buzz.
Tran said he understands studios and distributors have tough decisions to make when allocating their award season budgets. But they need to challenge existing assumptions and take a hard look when it comes time to choose which movies receive a robust awards campaign. In addition, there are now plenty of examples that make it harder to dismiss movies created by and starring Asian artists.
“We have concrete examples, concrete data to point to and say, ‘Hey, look, our community can do really well. Don’t dismiss this director because she’s an Asian woman. Look what Chloé Zhao just did, right? Don’t dismiss the Asian-led superhero film because look at ‘Shang-Chi,’ the second-highest-grossing film of 2021,’” Tran said. “The more we can have the opportunity to be celebrated in the awards space, the box office, the more we have data to go into those meetings and say: ‘Don’t do this just because diversity is, quote unquote, good,’ which you should do. But also: ‘Do this because it makes business sense. It makes your company money, and it changes and moves the needle for all of us as well.’”
This year’s Gold List contains three new categories: Best Animated Short, Best Live Action Short and Breakout Independent Film. They were added because these kinds of awards can often give emerging filmmakers more visibility and “could really take their career to the next level,” Tran said. Winning a major award makes it more likely that a director of a short film can make the leap to feature films and an indie director can make the leap to big-budget projects. For instance, Chinese Canadian director Domee Shi won the Best Animated Short Oscar for her 2018 Pixar short “Bao.” She is now the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to direct a Pixar feature: “Turning Red,” which will premiere March 11 on Disney+.
For the second consecutive year, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered Oscar season, which Tran worries will affect which movies get on award voters’ radar. The recent surge in new infections due to the highly transmissible omicron variant has forced many award shows and Oscar season events to move back online. Though virtual events can make these movies more accessible, in-person awards hobnobbing can often encourage Oscar voters to check out movies they might not otherwise have considered. One major example of a word-of-mouth hit was 2019’s “Parasite,” which gradually built up buzz through holding events and winning major awards leading up to that year’s Oscars ceremony.
Featured on this year’s Gold List is Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” which recently won Best Picture from three of the top critics’ organizations: the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. Tran is hopeful the acclaimed film might have an award season journey similar to “Parasite’s” but wonders if virtual events might make it harder for movies to break through the noise.
All of this demonstrates the need for more representation and inclusion across the award season ecosystem, from studio and streaming service executives, to publicity and marketing heads, to the reporters and critics who write about movies and the award season. Tran said that, although a lot more work needs to happen on many fronts, he’s cautiously optimistic about where things are headed. If anything, there are more ways than ever to hold Hollywood executives and decision-makers accountable.
“You said all these great things. Now let’s see you start investing money into these films,” Tran said. “Let’s see you start hiring the right leaders to run those departments, those who are mindful of these issues, who can really affect and implement the change internally so that, externally, the stories being told are the ones that our communities are demanding and want to see.”
Read the full Gold List below.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”
Honorable mentions: “Drive My Car” and “The Green Knight”
Destin Daniel Cretton (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”)
Honorable mentions: Cary Joji Fukunaga (“No Time to Die”) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”)
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Hidetoshi Nishijima (“Drive My Car”)
Honorable mentions: Simu Liu (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”) and Dev Patel (“The Green Knight”)
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Gemma Chan (“Eternals”)
Honorable mentions: Patti Harrison (“Together Together”) and Maggie Q (“The Protégé”)
Best Supporting Actor in a Supporting Role
Tony Leung (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”)
Honorable mentions: Benedict Wong (“Nine Days”) and Steven Yeun (“The Humans”)
Best Supporting Actress in a Supporting Role
Awkwafina (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”)
Honorable mentions: Sarita Choudhury (“The Green Knight”) and Jessica Henwick (“The Matrix Resurrections”)
Best Original Screenplay
Honorable mentions: “Nine Days” and “Raya and the Last Dragon”
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Drive My Car”
Honorable mentions: “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”
Best Animated Feature
“Raya and the Last Dragon”
Honorable mentions: “Belle” and “Flee”
Best Documentary Feature
Honorable mentions: “Ascension” and “Flee”
Best Animated Short
Honorable mentions: “Step Into the River” and “Us Again”
Best Live Action Short
“The Long Goodbye”
Honorable mentions: “Americanized” and “The Little Prince(ss)”
Breakout Independent Film
“India Sweets and Spices”