ASIAN VOICES

The Gold List Aims To Make Sure Asian Actors And Filmmakers Strike Oscar Gold

Asians have been historically underrepresented at the Oscars and in other major entertainment awards.

Last February, in one of the final big cultural moments of the Before Times, “Parasite” won the Oscar for Best Picture, becoming the first non-English-language movie to win the top prize. The film’s director, Bong Joon-ho, also took home Oscars for Best Director, Best International Film (the first South Korean movie to win in the category) and Best Original Screenplay (with his co-writer, Han Jin-won). It was a seismic moment for Korean and Asian representation. 

But none of the film’s cast members were nominated for acting awards, part of a longstanding pattern of Asian actors’ underrepresentation at the Academy Awards. That same year, Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” starring Awkwafina, was shut out of the Oscars completely despite garnering universal critical acclaim and winning other major awards.

A new initiative wants to make sure this year isn’t a repeat, convening a group of film industry professionals to give films by Asian directors and featuring Asian stars an added boost.

The Gold List is like a “For Your Consideration” ad for movies starring Asian actors and/or directed by Asian filmmakers. Each year during awards season, studios, distributors and their publicity teams launch often-costly advertising campaigns to promote their awards contenders. The Gold List, released on Monday, is a collaboration between two nonprofit organizations working to improve AAPI representation in culture: Gold House and Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment. (Read the full list below.)

The goal is to give the films more visibility, according to Gold House co-founder Bing Chen, so that members of various awards bodies will put them on their radars as awards season starts to take off in the coming weeks, leading up to the Oscars in April.

“The timing is no coincidence,” Chen said. “Many of these films, particularly indies, often don’t have the budgets to run expensive For Your Consideration campaigns, or their filmmakers or studios and so forth don’t have the level of access that may be essential in ensuring nominations and eventual wins.”

The cast and crew of Parasite at the Oscars last February.
The cast and crew of Parasite at the Oscars last February.

The list features a variety of movies, filmmakers and performances, many of which are already receiving lots of Oscar buzz, like director Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and actors Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”). 

In the 93-year history of the Oscars, only a handful of actors of Asian descent have been nominated, and only three have won. The last time an Asian actor was nominated in an acting category was Dev Patel for 2016′s “Lion.” Eight years earlier, Patel was the breakout star of “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won Best Picture. But like “Parasite,” “Slumdog Millionaire” did not receive any acting nominations. In fact, of the four movies with Asian leads that have won Best Picture, only one, 1982′s “Gandhi,” received an acting nomination: that year’s Best Actor winner, Ben Kingsley, who is of South Asian descent.

The historical dearth of Asian representation at the Oscars has become more glaring in recent years amid the push for more on-screen representation in Hollywood and an undeniable wave of commercially successful, critically acclaimed films directed by Asian filmmakers and/or starring Asian actors. 

The massive box-office success of 2018′s “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood studio movie in 25 years with a majority-Asian cast, was a watershed moment for Asian representation. One of Gold House’s other initiatives, Gold Open, works to make sure Asian-led and Asian-directed films perform well at the box office during their crucial opening weekends and to help make sure more AAPI viewers get access to those movies.

Awards institutions like the Academy have been slower to catch up, demonstrating that Hollywood has to do more work in recognizing that Asians are a powerful force in culture and entertainment — as creators and as consumers.

“We know we can hit commercial success, but then when you look at critical acclaim, there’s a lopsidedness here,” Chen said.

And it’s not just making films specific for AAPI audiences, as Chen pointed out. It’s recognizing that those films — while being culturally specific and helping AAPI moviegoers feel more seen and heard — also can have universal resonance and transcend categorizations.

“We have to get to a point where we realize people are not just watching content that looks like them. People are also watching content that they love,” Chen said, noting that for example, “anime is a genre that has transcended any specific country or race.” 

We know we can hit commercial success, but then when you look at critical acclaim, there’s a lopsidedness here. Gold House co-founder Bing Chen

Chen also pointed to the universal themes of movies like “The Farewell” and “Parasite,” and the ways “Minari” is “an aggressively American story.” Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, it depicts a Korean American family in rural Arkansas in the 1980s, starring Yeun as a husband and father trying to reconcile his idealistic vision of the American dream with the harsh reality of survival. 

But because most of the film’s dialogue is in Korean, the movie is being forced to compete as a “foreign language movie” at the Golden Globes. “The Farewell” suffered a similar fate, despite also being an American film directed by an American filmmaker and featuring an American star. Chen said the Golden Globes’ rule simply doesn’t reflect reality: Many Americans across many racial and ethnic groups speak multiple languages in their daily lives and/or don’t speak English as their primary language.

The disparity between the financial power of Asian-led and Asian-directed movies and their relative lack of awards recognition likewise fails to reflect reality and creates the perception that “our stories are worthy but our souls aren’t,” Chen said. “So when people don’t see you, you know, we feel like we have to show them who we are. And we think a list that’s distilled and voted on by the purveyors of top AAPI films is one way to do that.”

Read the full Gold List below.

Best Picture

“Minari” and Sound of Metal” 

Honorable Mentions: “The Half of It,” “The White Tiger,” “Yellow Rose”

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) and Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”)

Honorable Mentions: Ramin Bahrani (“The White Tiger”), Diane Paragas (“Yellow Rose”), Alice Wu (“The Half of It”), Alan Yang (“Tigertail”)

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”)

Honorable Mentions: Adarsh Gourav (“The White Tiger”), Dev Patel (“The Personal History of David Copperfield”), Harry Shum Jr. (“All My Life”) 

Best Actress

Yeri Han (“Minari”) and Leah Lewis (“The Half of It”)

Honorable Mentions: Hong Chau (“Driveways”), Tsai Chin (“Lucky Grandma”), Eva Noblezada (“Yellow Rose”)

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Kim (“Minari”) and Orion Lee (“First Cow”)

Honorable Mentions: Lucas Jaye (“Driveways”), Tzi Ma (“Mulan”), Rajkummar Rao (“The White Tiger”)

Best Supporting Actress

Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”) and Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”)

Honorable Mentions: Priyanka Chopra Jonas (“The White Tiger”), Gong Li (“Mulan”), Lea Salonga (“Yellow Rose”)

Best Original Screenplay

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) and Alice Wu (“The Half of It”)

Honorable Mentions: Mong-Hong Chung and Yao-Sheng Chang (“A Sun”), Diane Paragas (“Yellow Rose”), Isabel Sandoval (“Lingua Franca”), Alan Yang (“Tigertail”) 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Ramin Bahrani (“The White Tiger”) and Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”)

Best Documentary Feature

“Be Water” and A Thousand Cuts”

Honorable Mentions: “76 Days,” “The Donut King,” “The Social Dilemma”

Best Animated Feature

“Bombay Rose” and Over the Moon”

Honorable Mentions: “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train,” “On-Gaku: Our Sound,” “A Whisker Away”