A record number of actors of Asian descent have been recognised with Oscar nominations this year, led by Michelle Yeoh from Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, who is perhaps the frontrunner for the Best Actress award. Historically, Asian actors have rarely appeared at the awards.
And Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, which is nominated for 11 awards, seems to be winning more and more awards. Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian actress in SAG history to win the lead role in the film, while her co-star, Ke Huy Quan, also became the first Asian to win the Best Supporting Actor award. The film also won Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and Jamie-Lee Curtis won Best Supporting Actress, making the incredible film even more history as it became the first film to win three acting awards at SAG.
And with the awards season in full swing for a few more weeks, the impact of Asian actors and filmmakers, and actors and filmmakers of Asian descent, has perhaps never been more prominent. With no fewer than four Asian actors in the running for the prestigious Academy Awards, and many more nominated for recognition behind the camera, the gifts of different perspectives are now clearer than ever. Of course, this is not the first time that Asians and people of Asian descent have made their mark on the world of Hollywood.
British-Pakistani actor (and rapper, by the way) Riz Ahmed has been showing his increasingly creative side in recent years. In addition to his critically acclaimed musical outbursts, Ahmed has been nominated for several awards for his performances on the silver screen, including his role in the 2019 film The Sound of Metal, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu won international acclaim for his title role in the 2021 Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Among other Marvel projects, he will next be seen in the Barbie movie.
Born to a Chinese-American father and a Korean-American mother, Awkwafina is known as a comedian and rapper, but she has also been gaining serious recognition in the film world for a few years now, with her performances in 2019’s The Farewell and 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings being picked up at many festivals.
Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao became widely known after the success of her 2020 film Nomadland. Zhao became the second woman (and the first non-white woman in history) to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
Of course, we can’t forget Bong Joon-ho, who has been an incredibly popular director in his native South Korea and among art film fans for decades, but in 2019, his film Parasite gained huge international fame by becoming the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Since his starring role in Danny Boyle’s award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, British-Indian actor Dev Patel has continued to be in the spotlight, with 2016’s critically acclaimed Lion and The Green Knight (2021).
It’s fair to say that Hollywood is increasingly short-changing Asian actors when it comes to taking a big box-office hit or festival favourite. Fortunately, there is no shortage of talent: they are perfect for the job, playing superheroes, romantic lovers or complex lead roles in dramas, comedies or whatever.