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My Turn

by Dmae Roberts

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #4 (February 15, 2016), page 6.

Oscars so Asian: A fantasy

My friend Eliza and I have decided to boycott this year’s Academy Awards broadcast. It’s been a yearly tradition of ours to watch the Oscars together, making it a big night of red-carpet commentary while eating pizza and toasting with champagne. But after the last three years of mostly white nominees, we could not muster any enthusiasm. For the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in the lead and supporting-acting categories are white, prompting an outcry on social media throughout the country. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became popular again on Twitter and several stars like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith announced they would boycott the show.

This outcry motivated the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to enact some changes in their voting regulations, namely to give a 10-year term limit to a member’s voting status. The Academy has also altered its recruiting process to increase diversity in its membership.

Though the revisions are a step in the right direction, it may have minimal effect on an awards system that isn’t inclusive. The recent Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards celebrated several winners of color: Aziz Ansari, Idris Elba, Queen Latifah, Viola Davis, and the entire cast of "Orange is the New Black." Of course, most of the awards were for work in television, which continues to prove it’s a medium with more opportunities for actors of color than the film industry. What also makes SAG more inclusive is its 117,000 voting members; the Academy has only 6,000. There’s more opportunity to resemble the American population with a larger, less exclusive membership.

No Asian actor has taken an Oscar home since 1984, when Haing S. Ngor won for The Killing Fields. Other honorees have included Yul Brynner in 1956 for The King and I, Miyoshi Umeki in 1957 for Sayonara, and Ben Kingsley in 1982 for Ghandi. No Asian actress has ever won the Best Lead Actress award. Some directors and production artists have won Oscars, including director Ang Lee, cinematographer James Wong Howe, and editor Richard Chew.

In my fantasy Oscars night, I’ve dreamt of an awards show with many nominations for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. So this year, I put my dreams to paper and invented my own Best Picture and Best Actor nominees. They are:

Anna May Wong — A drama spanning the life and career of the first Asian-American movie star, from her silent-screen days to her disillusionment with Hollywood when she was consistently turned down for lead roles in favor of non-Asian actors. Best Lead Actress: Lucy Liu; Best Director: Ang Lee.

Washer/Dryer — A contemporary romantic comedy adaptation of Nandita Shenoy’s stage play about a Chinese man and a South Asian woman, who are newlyweds hiding their marriage from his mother and the head of their New York City condo association. Best Lead Actor: John Cho; Best Lead Actress: Mindy Kaling; Best Director: Joan Chen.

Allegiance, The Musical — The film adaption of the Broadway musical about a family during Japanese-American internment becomes a hit movie. Best Lead Actor: George Takei. Need I say more?

The Manila Men — A film set in 1763, when Filipinos who identified as the "Manila Men" jumped off Spanish ships along the Louisiana coast to escape Spanish brutalities during the era of galleon trade. They settled in Saint Malo, a village on the bayous of what is now New Orleans. They went undiscovered until the mid-1850s. Best Lead Actor: Lou Diamond Phillips.

The Battle for Paradise — A grand epic of the legendary King Kamehameha of Hawai’i detailing his place in history as an advanced military tactician when Spanish and English explorers arrived in Hawai’i. Best Lead Actor: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (who is Samoan). Best Director: Justin Lin. (This one is actually being produced! Of course it will receive multiple nominations!)

Four Weddings, No Funeral — A comic drama about four Asian-American brides — Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, and Hmong — who decide to have their dream weddings on the same day. The only caveat is their families are all demanding traditional ceremonies. Best Lead Actress: Maggie Q (who is biracial Vietnamese).

Sai-I-Gu — The story of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots from the perspectives of the residents and store owners of Koreatown. After four days of rioting and more than 1,100 buildings damaged or destroyed, Korean activists join with African-American community leaders to lead the largest peaceful protest organized by the Asian-American community. Best Lead Actor: Daniel Dae Kim; Best Lead Actress: Margaret Cho (in her most telling dramatic role).

And one final nomination …

Secret Asian Woman — The story of a biracial Asian-American girl coming of age in rural Oregon. Best Lead Actress: Chloe Bennet as a young Dmae Roberts. (Hey, this is my fantasy, right?)

While a list of mostly Asian-American nominees won’t likely happen in my lifetime, one can hope future Oscar nominations might include at least one or two in the top categories. Here’s to finding something else to do this year on Oscar night!

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