Asian cinema makes Oscar history

The 93rd annual Academy Awards on Monday marked several firsts for Asian cinema.

Chinese-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman and only the second woman to win Best Director for her film Nomadland, which also saw her taking home the award for Best Picture.

Yuh Jung Youn, a 73-year-old veteran Korean actress, was also the first Korean performer to win in one of the four major acting categories for her supporting role in Minari.

The nominations this year included many other notable firsts, in one of the Academy’s most diverse ceremonies to date.

Steven Yuen, for his leading role in Minari, became the first Asian American Actor to be nominated for Best Actor. Riz Ahmed, who is of Pakistani descent, is also the first Muslim actor to be nominated for best actor for his role in Sound of Metal. Chloe Zhao is the first Asian woman to ever be nominated for best director. Alongside Lee Isaac Chung’s directing nomination for Minari, this also makes it the first time two Asians and two women were nominated for the category.

These historic wins come as calls for social consciousness have been at the forefront of media coverage. After years of criticisms for its lack of diversity and inclusion, as well as growing outrage over the anti-Asian racist attacks in the Asian American community over the past year, the prestigious awards show has finally stepped up to the plate.

This also came after years where the show has been branded as #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale. Although a number Asian-led best picture films have been recognized in the past – such as Parasite, Slumdog Millionaire, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – far and few have ever received acting nods.

For the first time in Oscar history, almost half (nine out of 20) who were nominated for acting categories are performers of colour; and more women (70) were nominated throughout the categories in any previous year.

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