Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist at Biola University and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism”. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
It took 93 years for the Academy to name an Asian woman as the best director. And by this year, only five women, all white, had ever been nominated and won only one – Catherine Bigelow, in 2010, “The Hurt Locker.”
But that all changed on Sunday evening, with Chloe Zhao taking the Academy Award for the critically acclaimed “Nomadland”, showing a woman in her 60s (played by Francis MacDormand) traveling as a van-dwelling nomad has gone. (Earlier at the Oscars, another female director, Emerald Fennell, was also nominated in the category that same year).
The Chinese director’s victory assumes that Asian women can have an impact on the entertainment industry – one that historically validates them.
Examples of this in particular include scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket”, in which a Vietnamese prostitute approaches two white American GIs, saying, “I’m so horny … I’ve been with you for a long time.” Is love. ” Another disturbing depiction takes place in 2001’s “Rush Hour 2” in a massage parlor, where a bunch of Asian female sex workers appear from behind a set of sliding doors, but have no personality nor any Backstory. Instead, they woo Chris Tucker’s character, with one woman charmingly biting her breasts, while the others smile politely.
Still from “Full Metal Jacket” (1987). Credit: Mary Evans / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection
But as the stature of Asian women gradually increases behind the scenes, the prosperity of Asian women characters on the screen increases.
Following this success, director Lulu Wang’s 2019 film, “The Farewell” featured a Chinese American woman (played by Akwafina, who also starred in “Crazy Rich Asians”), diagnosed with cancer from her boyfriend The grandmother in China was navigating her family’s decision to keep up. Partly based on Wang’s own life, it was a family drama with all Asian and Asian American women with complex, human characters. There was no objectification, simplification or paganism in sight.
Akwafina (center) in “The Farewell” (2019). Credit: A24 Films
In 2020, director Kathy Yan’s “Harley Quinn: Birds of Pre” became one of the most racially diverse and female-oriented films in the DC universe. Based on a screenplay by Christina Hodgson, who is of Taiwanese and English descent, the film features several female characters, including Cassandra Cain, a young Asian American superhero.
This is not to say that Zhao did not view these stories of Americana through her own cultural lens – but with complexity and nuance, she shows that these statements are not owned by American-born directors, let alone white people. To.
In the Francis MacDormand film “Nomadland”. Credit: Searchlight pictures
That Zhao is being celebrated as an autocracy when anti-Asian hatred is on the rise is also notable. In the US, approximately 3,800 hate incidents were reported between March 2020 and the end of February 2021, according to Stop AAPI Gate. Her accolades, however, cannot erase anti-Asian racism, winning the Oscar for Best Director will gain greater influence and visibility for the Asian community in American film. Industry that has been marginalized for a long time.
Zhao’s victory has also earned its place in the great directors’ canon, reminding Hollywood that white men are not the only storytellers worth celebrating.