Thursday, May 6, 2021

Here’s why Chloe Zhao’s victory matters to Asian women in Hollywood

written by Nancy Wang Yuen

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.

More agency

In Hollywood, Asian women have long existed as fiction, Fetish And Exotica – objects of desire filtered through a Western male gaze.

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

Asian American women are often limited to playing caricatures, especially early in their careers. Speaking to The Guardian in 2017, Taiwanese American television actor Camille Chen said He felt When she was starting out she had no choice but to massage and go for prostitute roles. Another Asian American woman whom I interviewed for her book, “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actor and Racism,” described the sentiment “Like a prostitute” After playing the stereotype with a heavy Asian accent.

But as the stature of Asian women gradually increases behind the scenes, the prosperity of Asian women characters on the screen increases.

After bringing in a screenwriter for 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians”, Adele Lim helped To strengthen Asian female characters. In particular, she gave more agency to Constance Wu’s character, Rachel Choo, and Michelle Yoh’s character, Eleanor Young, is more sympathetic than the book she was based on, she told the online magazine Bustle.

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.

In Aquafina (center) "the farewell" (2019).

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.

Defining conventions

As part of this group of rising Asian female directors, Zhao is already making history. Zhao is Most respected filmmaker One of the dozens of other awards from critics associations, an award season ever taking home the BAFTAs, Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion. She was also the first Asian woman or woman of color win The first woman of color to win the Directors Guild of America Award for Best Director at the Golden Globes and Outstanding Direction in a Feature Film.
Born in Beijing, she left China at the age of 15 Educated Britain and then to the United States, where he studied filmmaking at New York University’s Tisk School of the Arts. Zhao has since made a name for himself through his unique vision and voice, which blends documentary and narrative filmmaking.
He is known for Making his films With the humanity of the actors – many of whom are untrained – starring in them. Through “Songs My Brothers Tout Me” (2015), “The Rider” (2017) and “Nomadland” (2020) Zhao presents a distinctive poetic vision of the American West. As a director, Zhao is able to capture in an interview with Deadline, adding “the emotional truth these people feel,” adding: “I with more reverence for understanding a person in that world Let me start with what the character should be, rather than imposing himself. “

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.

What his perspective is about his films focuses on marginalized groups, whether it is Native American or nomadic. “I’ve always been an outsider, and I’m naturally ready for them,” Zhao Told Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
Defining stereotypes and classifications once again, her next project will be completely different: Zhao will become the first Asian woman to direct a Marvel superhero film. Set for November 2021, “The Eternals” features a multi-layered and multinational cast, including several artists of Asian descent: Gemma Chan, Don Lee and Kumail Nanjiani. Zhao is Allegedly Bring the same humanization the access His independent play for the big-budget set of “The Eternals”, using “the same camera rig used for Nomland”.
Francis MacDormand in the film "Itinerant race."

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.


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