Nancy Wang Yuen is a sociologist at Biola College and the creator of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.” All opinions expressed on this article belong to the creator.
It took 93 years for the Academy to call an Asian girl as Greatest Director. And till this yr, solely 5 ladies, all White, had ever been nominated and just one had received — Kathryn Bigelow, in 2010, for “The Damage Locker.”
However all of this modified Sunday night, with Chloé Zhao taking house the Academy Award for the critically-acclaimed “Nomadland,” which depicts a lady in her 60s (performed by Frances McDormand) touring by the American West as a van-dwelling nomad. (In an Oscars first, one other girl director, Emerald Fennell, was additionally nominated within the class in the identical yr).
The Chinese language director’s win acknowledges the affect Asian ladies can exert on the leisure trade — one which has traditionally objectified them.
Notably egregious examples of this embrace scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film “Full Steel Jacket,” during which a Vietnamese prostitute approaches two White American GIs, saying, “Me so sexy … me love you very long time.” One other disturbing portrayal takes place at a therapeutic massage parlor in 2001’s “Rush Hour 2,” the place a harem of Asian ladies intercourse staff seem from behind a set of sliding doorways however are given no personalities and no backstories. As an alternative, they entice Chris Tucker’s character, with one girl seductively cupping her breasts whereas others smile submissively.
A nonetheless from “Full Steel Jacket” (1987). Credit score: Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Assortment
However because the stature of Asian ladies slowly grows behind the scenes, so does the richness of Asian feminine characters on display screen.
Following on from this success, director Lulu Wang’s 2019 movie, “The Farewell,” depicted a Chinese language American girl (performed by Awkwafina, who additionally starred in “Loopy Wealthy Asians”) navigating her household’s resolution to maintain a most cancers prognosis hidden from her beloved grandmother in China. Partly based mostly on Wang’s personal life, this was a household drama during which all of the Asian and Asian American ladies have been complicated, humanized characters. There was no objectification, simplification or fetishization in sight.
Awkwafina (middle) in “The Farewell” (2019). Credit score: A24 Movies
In 2020, director Cathy Yan’s “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” grew to become one of the racially various and female-orientated motion pictures within the DC universe. Based mostly on a screenplay by Christina Hodson, who’s of Taiwanese and English descent, the movie options many ladies characters together with Cassandra Cain, a witty younger Asian American superhero.
This is not to say that Zhao did not see these tales of Americana by her personal cultural lens — however with complexity and nuance, she demonstrates that these narratives aren’t owned by US-born administrators, let alongside White ones.
Frances McDormand within the movie “Nomadland.” Credit score: Courtesy of SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
That Zhao is being celebrated as an auteur throughout a time of rising anti-Asian hate can be noteworthy. Within the US, nearly three,800 hate incidents have been reported between March 2020 and the tip of February 2021, in response to the group, Cease AAPI Hate. Whereas her accolades, after all, can not erase anti-Asian racism, by successful the Oscar for Greatest Director she’s going to garner extra affect and visibility for the Asian group within the US film trade that has lengthy marginalized it.
Zhao’s victory additionally cements her place within the canon of nice administrators, reminding Hollywood that White males aren’t the one storytellers price celebrating.