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A Big Night for Asian Representation in Hollywood

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Showcasing talent from across Asia, Hollywood’s biggest night this year was a watershed moment for representation.

It was a historic Oscars, with Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAAO)taking home the coveted Best Picture award and a total of seven Oscars. Starring actress Michelle Yeoh (楊紫瓊), who hails from Malaysia, made history by becoming the first actress of Asian descent to ever win the Best Actress award.

EEAAO actor Ke Huy Quan (關繼威), who plays Michelle Yeoh’s husband, stole the show by winning the Best Supporting Actor prize after a thirty-plus year break from Hollywood. Quan, a Vietnamese refugee of Chinese descent, addressed his experiences in his acceptance speech, saying that his “journey started on a boat…and somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.” Quan was one of the “boat people” that fled Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam war. He lived in a refugee camp in Hong Kong and later was granted political asylum in the United States with his family. From there, he was cast alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and later, The Goonies. Another Vietnamese refugee, Hong Chau, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Whale. Chau was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, and later moved with her family to the greater New Orleans area.

The representation of Asians in EEAAO wasn’t just in front of the screen–it was also behind the scenes. Co-director Daniel Kwan (關家永) was born in Massachusetts to a mother from Taiwan and a father from Hong Kong. EEAAO producer Jonathan Wang (王慶) also hails from Taiwanese descent. In a post-Oscars interview, Wang described EEAAO as “a love song to our Taiwanese parents”.

South Asian representation was also prevalent at the Oscars. The Oscar for Best Original Song was awarded to lyricist Chandrabose and composer M.M. Keeravani for Telugu-language song “Naatu Naatu” in RRR (short for ‘Rise Roar Revolt’). Some noted that it was an impressive feat for a film that not only showcased Indian cinema, but particularly South Indian cinema, history, and culture.

The Elephant Whispers, set in Tamil Nadu and focused on an Indigenous couple in South India, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. Director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga were the first Indian filmmakers to ever win a competitive Oscar.

All in all, it was a fantastic night for Asian representation in Hollywood, rounding up an excellent awards season. These wins are a significant step forward in making Hollywood more inclusive and diverse, and we hope to see more diversity in the years to come.

Yumei Lin is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. She is currently an undergraduate at Tufts University studying International Relations with a focus on Security Studies, as well as a minor in Economics.