Asian representation should have made a much-needed leap forward at the 92nd annual Academy Awards.
When the nominations for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards were announced on Monday, Bong Joon-ho's Parasite made history by becoming the first South Korean film nominated for Best International Film. In total, the movie was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Production Design.
The last time an Asian film broke into Best Picture was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001, which received 10 nominations in total at the 73rd Academy Awards. (In the end, it won four, including Best Foreign Language Film, as it was called at the time).
However, in a year that could have been a major leap forward in representation at the Oscars, performers of Asian descent were overlooked in all of the acting categories. Notably, Awkwafina was not among the nominees for Best Actress, despite rave reviews for her performance in The Farewell and making history at the Golden Globe by becoming the first Asian-American woman to win a lead actress film category (Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy).
Also snubbed were the likes of Song Kang-ho (Parasite) and Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell), both of whom many thought would be recognized in the Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories, respectively.
The only time a woman of Asian descent has been nominated for Best Actress was in 1936, when Eurasian actress Merle Oberon was up for The Dark Angel. Meanwhile, the last time any Asian actor was nominated by the Academy was in 2007, when Rinko Kikuchi was up for Best Supporting Actress for Babel.
The snubs for The Farewell also extend to Lulu Wang, who wrote and directed the film and was overlooked in the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories.
While Awkwafina and Wang were snubbed, that's not to discount representation in other categories. Kazu Hiro, who made history in 2018 by becoming the first Asian person to win Best Makeup and Hairstyling, was nominated again, this time for Bombshell. Another Korean film, In the Absence, directed by Seung-jun Yi and produced by Gary Kam, was nominated for Best Documentary Short and filmmaker Siqi Song's Sisters was recognized in the Best Animated Short Film category.
"This is incredible news, and we are honored and excited to receive this nomination," Yi and Kam said in a joint statement to ET, adding: "The year 2019 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Korean cinema so it is especially meaningful for us to be a part of the proud moment of film history of Korea."
Overall, the lack of expanded representation comes after decades of being overlooked during awards season.
The issue was further exasperated at the 2016 Oscars -- which had already drawn criticism over the failure to nominate any people of color in the acting categories -- when host Chris Rock brought out three Asian-American children for a stereotype-laden sight gag. Constance Wu and others slammed the joke, and a few days later, Sandra Oh, George Takei and director Ang Lee were among several Academy members to sign an open letter calling for an apology.
Since then, there has been an ongoing call for an increase in Asian representation in storytelling and the end to whitewashing Asian roles in movies and TV. After her historic win at the Globes, Awkwafina spoke to reporters about the significance of her win: "It’s pretty mind-blowing. I think it feels incredible, but I think there's also this other feeling that you want there to be more," she said.
"I hope this is just the beginning," she added.
This year's Oscars will air live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on ABC on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT.