It has been a turbulent, traumatic, and confusing year for the Asian-American community. Amidst being scapegoated for the COVID-19 pandemic and the horrendous spike in anti-Asian violence, many of us began to question our place in this country. The Atlanta Massacre opened up a can of worms in the form of an incredibly uncomfortable discussion/truth that many non-POC and POC were not ready to face head-on — that white supremacy still continues to teach and encourage us to disrespect and disregard the existence of Asian women, dangerously imposing modern imperialism on a vulnerable and (more often than not) silent marginalized group.
On Sunday, April 25, we saw three Asian women take the stage at the 93rd annual Academy Awards to accept larger-than-life awards for their achievement in film. Chloe Zhao, a Beijing-born Chinese director, won “Best Director” for Nomadland, Yuh-Jong Youn, a seasoned South Korean actress, won “Best Supporting Actress” for Minari, and H.E.R., a Bay Area-bred Black and Filipino artist, won “Best Original Song” for “Fight for You,” the end credit track for Judas and the Black Messiah. All three of these extraordinary women made history as the first Asians to win an Academy Award in their respective categories.
Award shows in America are known to shamelessly lack diversity and were never a safe space for POC work to be celebrated and uplifted. Recently, the Golden Globes snubbed Michaela Coel’s widely-popular HBO series, I May Destroy You, and refused to nominate Minari for “Best Motion Picture”, pigeonholing it into the category of “Best Motion Picture – Foreign Film.” Monumental award wins by women of color, like the ones we saw this past Sunday evening, are the necessary steps we need to take (especially in creative spaces) if we are truly committed to decolonizing art and amplifying marginalized voices in those artistic communities.
Despite making history as the first South Korean actress to win “Best Supporting Actress,” the press would not let Yuh-Jong Youn exclusively bask in her success. A tale as old as time, people had to attach an Asian woman’s headline-making success to a white man, and that man was Brad Pitt. The press hounded Youn, asking her about her encounter with Pitt, going as far as asking her what he smelled like (because what Brad Pitt smells like is way more pressing than interviewing the first South Korean winner of a massively prestigious award). Being the absolute icon that she is, she quickly snapped back, “I didn’t smell him, no…I’m not a dog.”
Honestly, what a powerful way to start AAPI Heritage Month.
Photo via ZUMA Press