One of the only bright spots of 2020 was the moment Bong Joon Ho made history with his magnum opus, Parasite, which stands as the first South Korean film to ever receive Academy Awards nominations, and the first-ever non-English film to win the award for Best Picture. Parasite is a masterpiece, earning praise from the most successful in the industry, including Martin Scorsese, who’s work in the same year came to represent the power of the white patriarchy. The Irishman represented everything the industry and the Academy secretly love, powerful white men and their women of few words. The moment that Parasite conquered its more traditional competitors, it signaled a shift in the entertainment space, one that welcomes and celebrates new voices. The effects of that moment have reverberated through the art that followed, and this year there is a brighter spotlight than ever on Asian voices.
Expected to be a major front runner this year is Nomadland, a project from Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao which tells the story of America’s ‘nomads.’ This story lives in the gray areas that so many choose to ignore, focusing on the ‘house-less,’ widening the lens we have so long used to view the issue of homelessness. Stemming from a book of the same name, Nomadland breathes life into a forgotten sect of American people; older people whom the system has failed, forced to choose a nomadic way of life when deprived of stability. Nomadland shows the unfortunate reality of many Americans following the 2008 recession; sleepless nights in the backseat of a car, reliance on laundromats, hygiene in public bathrooms, and political invisibility.
Another heavy hitter this season comes from artistic powerhouse, A24, in the form of Minari. Minari follows the story of a Korean American family exploring the American dream in the farmland of Arkansas. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari has already been named one of the ten best films of 2020, following its initial premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January of last year. The immigrant drama invites audiences to see the realities of the elusive American assimilation and gives a taste of a culture so rarely represented in media- a literal taste with a gift of Korean gochugaru in the early moments of the film.
We’re experiencing a painful paradox right now, celebration of Asian art in recent months has found itself in the shadow of unprecedented hate. In the past year, we have seen a 1,900% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City alone. Art has always been political. There is no coincidence surrounding the voices that are amplified, and the ones that are hushed. The current recourse is a sharp reminder that the vision of the world portrayed to us by our most lucrative industries may not always be the reality. This crisis of hate comes at a time when some may be reciting that satirical SNL ditty from the 70th Emmy Awards, ‘We Solved It,’ – we most certainly have not. Moments like these remind us just how long it has taken for the American entertainment industry to open the gates to new voices. Lest we not forget, the historic year that Moonlight took home the Best Picture nod. People were praising the industry for its inclusivity and growth, while outside of Hollywood’s gates, America was seeing unprecedented spikes in police brutality and Black oppression. In the year of Moonlight’s celebration, more than 250 Black people were killed by the police alone.
This is all to say something simple, we can’t let the sparkle and shine of the silver screen blind us to the realities of American life. This year, as we celebrate Asian art and reflect on how far we’ve come from #OscarsSoWhite, we must remember that the work is far from over. As we celebrate art, we can’t let the red-carpet fashion and impassioned acceptance speeches overshadow the hate that is boiling over in this current moment.
White guilt is easily assuaged, often perpetuated by the billion-dollar industry that is film and television. Awarding Asian artists is a beautiful, and long overdue thing, but we cannot let the conversation stop there.