Asians Made Huge Strides At The 2021 Oscars. This Group Wants To Ensure It Wasn't A Blip.

The second annual Gold List highlights Asian-led and Asian-created movies to remind Oscar voters to diversity and keep representation top of mind.
From front to back: "The Green Knight," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Drive My Car."
From front to back: "The Green Knight," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Drive My Car."
Illustration: HuffPost; Photos: Marvel / A24 / Culture Entertainment

At last year鈥檚 Oscars, Chlo茅 Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director and Youn Yuh-jung became the first South Korean performer to win an acting Oscar, two landmarks for Asian representation at the Academy Awards.

They were part of a welcome and long-overdue uptick in diversity at the Oscars. In 2021, nearly half of the 20 acting nominees were people of color, a record high. That included three Asian nominees: Youn, along with her 鈥淢inari鈥 castmate Steven Yeun, as well as 鈥淪ound of Metal鈥 star Riz Ahmed. In addition, for the first time, more than one woman was nominated for Best Director (Zhao for 鈥淣omadland鈥 and Emerald Fennell for 鈥淧romising Young Woman鈥). Zhao also wasn鈥檛 the only Asian director nominated, with 鈥淢inari鈥 director Lee Isaac Chung among the five Best Director nominees.

However, looking at this year鈥檚 slate of Oscar contenders, it鈥檚 not likely the nominees, which will be announced Feb. 8, will match last year鈥檚 watershed moment for diversity and representation. In order to help put diversity and representation top of mind for Oscar voters, two Asian advocacy organizations 鈥 Gold House and the Coalition for Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) 鈥 have teamed up for their second annual Gold List. The list, released Tuesday, highlights Asian-led and Asian-created films of 2021 in the hopes that last year鈥檚 Oscar season wasn鈥檛 鈥渏ust one little blip鈥 but the beginning of 鈥渁 long-term movement,鈥 as Gold House鈥檚 executive director, Jeremy Tran, said in an interview.

鈥淢y biggest fear is that the voting bodies and awards community will say: 鈥極h, yeah, you got 鈥楶arasite鈥 two years ago. You got Chlo茅 Zhao last year. You鈥檙e good for the next 10 years,鈥欌 he said. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 my biggest fear and something we鈥檝e seen happen in the past.鈥

In 2021, Gold House and CAPE created the list because movies by and about Asians and other people of color traditionally haven鈥檛 been as likely to get the multimillion-dollar 鈥淔or your consideration鈥 campaigns and substantial backing from Hollywood studios and awards marketing firms. This year, Tran had hoped to see some progress, given the string of recent successes by Asian filmmakers and actors. But he鈥檚 disappointed that, for example, Marvel鈥檚 box office hit 鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,鈥 directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Leung, hasn鈥檛 received much awards attention compared with previous blockbusters. Another film on this year鈥檚 Gold List is A24鈥檚 鈥淭he Green Knight.鈥 Starring Dev Patel and Sarita Choudhury, the slow-burning and visually daring fantasy drama earned rave reviews from many critics but hasn鈥檛 generated much Oscar buzz.

Dev Patel in A24's "The Green Knight."
Dev Patel in A24's "The Green Knight."
Eric Zachanowich/A24

Tran said he understands studios and distributors have tough decisions to make when allocating their award season budgets. But they need to challenge existing assumptions and take a hard look when it comes time to choose which movies receive a robust awards campaign. In addition, there are now plenty of examples that make it harder to dismiss movies created by and starring Asian artists.

鈥淲e have concrete examples, concrete data to point to and say, 鈥楬ey, look, our community can do really well. Don鈥檛 dismiss this director because she鈥檚 an Asian woman. Look what Chlo茅 Zhao just did, right? Don鈥檛 dismiss the Asian-led superhero film because look at 鈥楽hang-Chi,鈥 the second-highest-grossing film of 2021,鈥欌 Tran said. 鈥淭he more we can have the opportunity to be celebrated in the awards space, the box office, the more we have data to go into those meetings and say: 鈥楧on鈥檛 do this just because diversity is, quote unquote, good,鈥 which you should do. But also: 鈥楧o this because it makes business sense. It makes your company money, and it changes and moves the needle for all of us as well.鈥欌

This year鈥檚 Gold List contains three new categories: Best Animated Short, Best Live Action Short and Breakout Independent Film. They were added because these kinds of awards can often give emerging filmmakers more visibility and 鈥渃ould really take their career to the next level,鈥 Tran said. Winning a major award makes it more likely that a director of a short film can make the leap to feature films and an indie director can make the leap to big-budget projects. For instance, Chinese Canadian director Domee Shi won the Best Animated Short Oscar for her 2018 Pixar short 鈥淏ao.鈥 She is now the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to direct a Pixar feature: 鈥淭urning Red,鈥 which will premiere March 11 on Disney+.

For the second consecutive year, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered Oscar season, which Tran worries will affect which movies get on award voters鈥 radar. The recent surge in new infections due to the highly transmissible omicron variant has forced many award shows and Oscar season events to move back online. Though virtual events can make these movies more accessible, in-person awards hobnobbing can often encourage Oscar voters to check out movies they might not otherwise have considered. One major example of a word-of-mouth hit was 2019鈥檚 鈥淧arasite,鈥 which gradually built up buzz through holding events and winning major awards leading up to that year鈥檚 Oscars ceremony.

Featured on this year鈥檚 Gold List is Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi鈥檚 鈥淒rive My Car,鈥 which recently won Best Picture from three of the top critics鈥 organizations: the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. Tran is hopeful the acclaimed film might have an award season journey similar to 鈥淧arasite鈥檚鈥 but wonders if virtual events might make it harder for movies to break through the noise.

Awkwafina and Simu Liu in Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
Awkwafina and Simu Liu in Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

All of this demonstrates the need for more representation and inclusion across the award season ecosystem, from studio and streaming service executives, to publicity and marketing heads, to the reporters and critics who write about movies and the award season. Tran said that, although a lot more work needs to happen on many fronts, he鈥檚 cautiously optimistic about where things are headed. If anything, there are more ways than ever to hold Hollywood executives and decision-makers accountable.

鈥淵ou said all these great things. Now let鈥檚 see you start investing money into these films,鈥 Tran said. 鈥淟et鈥檚 see you start hiring the right leaders to run those departments, those who are mindful of these issues, who can really affect and implement the change internally so that, externally, the stories being told are the ones that our communities are demanding and want to see.鈥

Read the full Gold List below.

Best Picture

鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淒rive My Car鈥 and 鈥淭he Green Knight鈥

Best Director

Destin Daniel Cretton (鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings鈥)

Honorable mentions: Cary Joji Fukunaga (鈥淣o Time to Die鈥) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (鈥淒rive My Car鈥)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Hidetoshi Nishijima (鈥淒rive My Car鈥)

Honorable mentions: Simu Liu (鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings鈥) and Dev Patel (鈥淭he Green Knight鈥)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Gemma Chan (鈥淓ternals鈥)

Honorable mentions: Patti Harrison (鈥淭ogether Together鈥) and Maggie Q (鈥淭he Prot茅g茅鈥)

Best Supporting Actor in a Supporting Role

Tony Leung (鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings鈥)

Honorable mentions: Benedict Wong (鈥淣ine Days鈥) and Steven Yeun (鈥淭he Humans鈥)

Best Supporting Actress in a Supporting Role

Awkwafina (鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings鈥)

Honorable mentions: Sarita Choudhury (鈥淭he Green Knight鈥) and Jessica Henwick (鈥淭he Matrix Resurrections鈥)

Best Original Screenplay

鈥淔lee鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淣ine Days鈥 and 鈥淩aya and the Last Dragon鈥

Best Adapted Screenplay

鈥淒rive My Car鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淓ternals鈥 and 鈥淪hang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings鈥

Best Animated Feature

鈥淩aya and the Last Dragon鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淏elle鈥 and 鈥淔lee鈥

Best Documentary Feature

鈥淭he Rescue鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淎scension鈥 and 鈥淔lee鈥

Best Animated Short

鈥淣amoo鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淪tep Into the River鈥 and 鈥淯s Again鈥

Best Live Action Short

鈥淭he Long Goodbye鈥

Honorable mentions: 鈥淎mericanized鈥 and 鈥淭he Little Prince(ss)鈥

Breakout Independent Film

鈥淚ndia Sweets and Spices鈥

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