Since the first ceremony in 1929, the Oscars have lacked representation of people of color. Less than 6% of Oscars nominations are from underrepresented groups of people, according to a report by the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Prestigious awards such as Best Actor/ Actress and Best Director are even more rare for people of color.
This year, Michelle Yeoh turned the tables by being the first Asian woman to be awarded best actress. Further, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” co-directed by Daniel Kwan, won seven out of 11 nominations. The documentary “The Elephant Whisperers” was the first South Asian film to win Best Documentary Short, and the Tamil song “Naatu Naatu” was the first to win Best Original Song.
While this year’s Oscars marked an important milestone in AAPI representation, there’s still progress to be made.
For one, many were shocked when Jamie Lee Curtis was awarded best supporting actress over Angela Bassett and Stephanie Hsu. While Curtis did an exceptional job playing the comedic villain in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” it falls short of the emotionally-appealing acting of Bassett and Hsu. Bassett plays Queen Ramonda in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” who showed strength and resilience as a female leader. She was not only the first Marvel actor to be nominated for the Oscars, but also won the Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress.
Hsu’s talent is also apparent as plays both the emotional and evil versions of Joy Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” also winning a Golden Globe award for her incredible performance. But while all three women were highly qualified, many believe that Bassett and Hsu’s awards were stolen by Curtis, who didn’t display nearly as much talent as the other two women.
Additionally, the live performance of “Naatu Naatu” during the Academy Awards received criticism for not being authentic. When the original actors, Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr., declined the invitation to perform, they were replaced with non-South Asian dancers who resembled the actors.
One of the dancers was Lauren Gottlieb, who had worked in India for a few years, but isn’t South Asian. Without actual South Asian dancers, people believe authentic Indian culture can’t be relayed in the same way. The same scenario occurred when a South Asian song was performed at the American Tap Dance Foundation — the dancers were not of South Asian descent and didn’t have any experience in Indian dance. Without the same experience and cultural background, Indian dance is misrepresented.
Additionally, films such as “The Woman King,” produced with a fully-Black female crew and cast, wasn’t nominated. The film is known to be equivalent in merit to other nominations, so leaving it out left many shocked.
The Oscars is well known for its issues with racism — the #OscarsSoWhite trended years ago for a reason. But I’m still grateful to see small steps forward, like in the increase in diversity of the nominations this year. And sometimes the ceremony does surprise us — although the background dancers of 'Naatu Naatu' were all white in the original film, the background dancers were of various ethnic backgrounds in the Oscar performance. And so, I remain hopeful that not only the AAPI community, but also other underrepresented groups will continue to be awarded for their work.