The Oscars are making progress towards a more diverse representation, but it is too slow and too minor
It’s been one year since the slap heard around the world happened. Three years since the filming of Everything Everywhere All At Once, the majority of which was shot in 38 days. Fifteen years for Del Toro’s Pinnochio to come out. Now, this will be a lot of math, enough to make my head spin while writing this, but these numbers have significance. An average of 35 years in the business for both Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser to win their first Academy Awards. But most importantly, 95 years for an openly Asian actress to win Best Actress at the Oscars. For one thing, it has been eight years since #OscarsSoWhite was trending, but the reality is, the Oscars are still incredibly lacking in diversity.
This year, seven out of twenty of the nominations for the acting categories were people of colour. The math equals out to 35%. Only two people of colour (Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan), Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor respectively, won their acting categories. This means that 50% of the winners for the acting categories were Asian, and in some regards this is a huge win for Asian representation at the Academy awards.
Yeoh made history as the first openly Asian actress to win the Best Actress category, and she is absolutely deserving of it. Her portrayal of Evelyn Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once was phenomenal. Yeoh brought ferocity, genuineness, and comedy to a complicated character, adding layers to her nuanced performance. To give her this recognition is a step in the right direction and sends a message of empowerment and identity to other Malaysian Chinese girls.
Quan has been in the acting industry for 40 years and his touching acceptance speech broke my heart. He is one of the most wholesome people I have ever laid eyes on, in and out of his role as Waymond Wang in Everything Everywhere All At Once. His Oscar acceptance speech recounted his story of being in a refugee camp and working his way up to the “American dream.” I was happy he won and in awe of his perseverance.
While I love Jamie Lee Curtis, I do not believe she should have won Best Supporting Actress, especially over acting powerhouses such as Angela Bassett and Stephanie Hsu. Stephanie Hsu, however, absolutely should have been in the Best Actress category. She is the other main character in Everything Everywhere All at Once—scratch that; to me, she is the center of the film. Jamie Lee Curtis is a good actress, but compared to Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang/Jobu Tupaki in this film, I found her as bland as the colour beige. Perhaps the Oscars reached their diversity quota for acting wins (50% people of colour, 50% white), so they decided that was enough. Regardless, Hsu should have won.
Speaking of robberies, Domee Shi deserved more recognition for Turning Red. Turning Red features great representation, a fun story, good music, and discusses coming-of-age in a manner not commonly seen in animation. The backlash they received for actively portraying what it’s like to be at that awkward age, as well as for discussing menstruation, tampons, and topics commonly associated with femininity is unearned and baffling. To be truthful, I partly believe the celebration of coming into womanhood is why they did not win. On a larger scale, the backlash shows that there is a clear phobia for these completely natural occurrences and also highlights the femmephobia that is present in society. Shi’s film was not “cringey.” It was children having fun and telling a modern coming-of-age story not influenced by media tropes such as the awkward girl finding out she can be pretty or centered around finding a boy to love her. Mei, the protagonist, is comfortable in her own skin, and so are her friends. It is the exact message we should be sending out to girls that age as opposed to the one the media presently illustrates. Periods are normal. Periods are natural. Boy bands are fun. Turning Red illustrates adolescence as a journey that is centered around discovering who you are and learning to love it. That is a good message. One final note is that it is interesting that the one Disney film to not win the Oscars after a three-year winning streak is the one that has no male directors and instead two women, one of whom is a person of colour, leading the project.
There is still a lot of work to be done, and I hope the Oscars are ready to pull up their bootstraps. There is still a significant lack and recognition of people of colour and women at the Academy Awards.