This year’s Oscar nominations, which were announced on Jan. 23, had some significant gaps.
Headlines touted the nominations as “diverse,” as several Black actors received nominations — Mary J. Blige in Mudbound, Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, and Denzel Washington for his role in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
So Hollywood avoided another #OscarsSoWhite scandal. But here’s a news flash. Diversity does not mean only Black actors. Asians and Latinos were shut out of acting categories completely!
Hong Chau was snubbed for her role in Downsizing, a nomination many had assumed was a lock given the strength of her performance as a Vietnamese refugee.
Throughout its history, the Academy has been notorious for overlooking both Asian and Latino talent. Actors of Asian descent have nabbed just 1 percent of all Oscar acting nods. What’s more, white actors have been nominated several times for playing characters of color, like Luise Rainer, who portrayed Chinese farmer O-Lan in “The Good Earth,” a very early example of #whitewashing.
While a smattering of Asian actors have been nominated in the last decade or so — Rinko Kikuchi (Babel), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai), and Dev Patel (Lion ) come to mind — Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields), and Miyoshi Umeki (Sayonara) are the only Asian actors ever to win an Oscar for acting.
No, we Asians don’t expect “participation trophies.” But you can’t win unless you’re nominated, and Academy recognition often comes with familiarity. And of course, there will continue to be no nominations for Asians if there aren’t any roles written for Asians, and Asians are actually cast as Asians.
A 2017 study showed that the majority of 100 top films in 2016 didn’t feature any Asian or Latino characters at all. It also found that over approximately the last decade, there’s been no “meaningful” increase in how many people of color are portrayed in popular films.
Of Chau, co-star Matt Damon said, “Every director will see how incredible she is in ‘Downsizing’ and will be falling all over themselves to try and work with her.”
So how about it Hollywood? You can do better.