Let’s play a little trivia game.
When was the last time an Asian actor or actress won an Oscar? I want you to think hard. Give up? The last time an actor of Asian descent won an Oscar was in 1985 when Haing S. Ngor (of Chinese and Cambodian descent) won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in “The Killing Fields”. The last and only time an actress of Asian descent won an Oscar was in 1958 when Miyoshi Umeki (of Japanese descent) made history by winning the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in “Sayonara”. Nineteen. Fifty. Eight….my parents were just a couple of toddlers!
Now, what about a Grammy? It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but Asian artists represent a microscopic fraction of all artists that have won Grammys over the past six decades. And most of the artists that have won are not your typical household names. Grammys have also been awarded to a handful of more renowned artists who are part-Asian, but most fans wouldn’t even know these artists were Asian. I mean, I’ll be the first one to claim Bruno Mars as one of us (he’s half-Filipino and half-Puerto Rican), but most people have no idea what race he falls under – he’s ethnically ambiguous, as they like to call it. Other winners of part-Asian ancestry include Nicole Scherzinger, Ne-Yo, Norah Jones, and Enrique Iglesias. [Hold up, Enrique Iglesias is half-Asian?! Apparently he’s half-Filipino but I literally just found out today. Who would’ve thought?]
The calls for increased diversity at major awards shows have dominated headlines the past few years, but even with all the inspiring and positive change that has arisen from it, the presence of Asians is still noticeably lacking at awards shows. Since the inception of the Oscars and the Grammys, nominations of Asian actors and artists have been few and far between, and the list of those who have actually won awards is even more sparse. Unfortunately, it appears that not much has changed. The list of 2018 Oscar nominations was released on Tuesday morning and as I browsed the list for a name similar to my own, I came up with nothing. [Huge shoutout to the minorities who did get big-time Oscar nods though, especially for “Get Out” and “Coco”…those movies were incredible!] Similarly, the Grammys, which take place this Sunday, will feature little to no Asian artists on stage, neither as performers nor as prospective winners (well, with the exception of Mr. Ethnically Ambiguous, of course). The same goes for the Golden Globes, the Tonys, the Emmys, the VMAs, the American Music Awards, and the list goes on and on. It is a disappointing facet of reality but, sadly, one that is expected at this point.
However, despite the current situation we face, I don’t want to downplay the major achievements Asians and Asian-Americans have made over time, because we have definitely made big strides in the entertainment industry, even in just the past decade alone. Taiwanese-born Ang Lee won the Best Director Academy Award for two different films in the 2000s, Korean sensation BTS became the first K-pop group to perform at the American Music Awards last November, and as I mentioned in my previous post, Aziz Ansari just became the first Asian male to win Best Actor in a TV category at the Golden Globes. However, the road ahead is still long and tough for Asians out there who want to break into show business and make a name for themselves in this country. When it comes to acting, not only do Asians have to compete with each other for the very limited amount of roles that are designed for them, but as we have witnessed in the recent past, they have to compete with the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon as well. When it comes to music, Asians have always had a hard time being accepted by the mainstream fan base and thus, they find it easier to identify with another race in order to win the approval of the masses.
With time, I’m confident that change will come. I can’t wait for the day when I turn on the radio and hear the voice of a Grammy-winning Asian songstress, one of the same caliber as Rihanna, Katy Perry, or Selena Gomez. I might be a middle-aged soccer mom by then, but best believe I’ll still be dancing in my car and embarrassing my kids. I know there will also be a day when I can suggest to my friends, “Let’s go see that movie with [insert Oscar-winning Asian actor here] this weekend”, to which they will respond, “Which one?” Until that day comes, we must make sure that our faces are seen, our voices are heard, and our stories are being told. It is only a matter of time, but change will not come with silence nor with complacency. There are young Asian kids out there who dream of being the next big star and we owe it to them and the generations after to give them a fighting chance, one that most of us never had.
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