I really love awards shows.
I understand it’s kind of a weird thing to love. Usually, I haven’t even seen all of the movies. But for some reason, watching people way hotter and richer than me get all glammed up to go win some naked gold statuettes just fills me with a type of glamorous joy that nothing else quite does.
Specifically, my favorite show is the Oscars. Surprise surprise. It is the most glam out of all the glam awards shows. When someone is even nominated for an Oscar, their name automatically changes to “Oscar nominated” or, that holy grail, “Oscar winner.” They always get so excited, it makes me excited.
I have watched the Oscars for several years now, and I have watched them morph from mostly all-white, to less mostly all-white. And this year, I was pretty proud of them for nominating more people of color. And for letting more people of color actually win naked gold statuettes. Moonlight won Best Picture, after that whole La La Land fiasco! I mean, I haven’t seen Moonlight, but I heard it was great and well-deserving of that Oscar!
However, one thing that really stood out to me about this year’s Oscars was Dev Patel. Yes, I am in love with Dev Patel. But I also remember seeing him and thinking Oh hey, they nominated an Indian guy! When was the last time an Asian person was nominated for a major award? And then seriously thinking about it. When was the last time an Asian person was nominated for a major award?
As a half-Korean female, I had pretty much accepted growing up that I would never see anyone who looked like me star in a major Hollywood movie. It just wasn’t going to happen, and I needed to deal with that. Maybe someone like me would play the smart best friend, the nerd who’s into computers – never the main character.
So, inspired by Dev Patel’s beautiful face, I decided to do some Googling. My results: there has been one Asian woman nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Her name was Merle Oberon, and she was British Raj. Guess when she was nominated? 1935. Guess if she won? She didn’t.
Now, I’m not saying that Merle Oberon should have won just because she was Asian. Maybe she didn’t deserve to win (sorry Merle, but we can’t all be winners). But I am saying that Merle signifies a much larger problem within the media industry.
At first, I was angry with the Academy. Why didn’t they nominate more Asian people? This is outrageous! But then, I examined that specific complaint more closely – and couldn’t find any possible nominees. It is honestly so hard to find any Asian person in any leading role. Like I said, I learned to deal with little to no representation at a young age. I guess I just became so accustomed to it, no Asians in any good media at all became normal, and I stopped noticing it – along with most of America. But I notice it now.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that there are no roles for Asian women. The problem is, not only are people reluctant to cast Asian people in movies that don’t call for a specific ethnicity, but they are also reluctant to cast Asian people in movies that call for an Asian ethnicity. Does this sound ridiculous? It is! But it happens all. The. Time. Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Emma Stone in Aloha, some white dude in Iron Fist, and, most recently, Nat Wolff in Death Note.
Why is it so unappealing to cast Asian actors to play Asian characters? Have you seen Steven Yeun? That man deserves an Oscar just for having his face.
Yes, the Academy doesn’t usually nominate Asian people for major awards. But how can you nominate someone for something they haven’t done? If there are no Asian people in major roles, how can the Academy nominate them?
So, here is me, uttering my plea into the glamorous, red-carpeted void paved with naked gold statuettes that is the media: please, I just want to see someone who looks like me star in a movie. And I want little Asian kids to see someone who looks like them star in a movie. And I want them to think Whoa, I can be a super-cool martial-arts superhero badass? and not Whoa, some white dude can be a super-cool martial-arts superhero badass? We already know that can happen, Chuck Norris exists. No, I would pay money to see a movie like this. Isn’t that the whole point of movies? Financially, whitewashing seems like a drain.
We had Merle, once – our crowning glory, our shining starlet, our streak of hope in a dark, pre-WWII era. But Merle has come and gone, as shining starlets are wont to do. Now, we must continue her legacy. Maybe we could start by casting an ethnically appropriate actor in the inevitable next anime/manga reboot. Maybe, we could even cast someone Asian in a role that does not specify an ethnicity (maybe a little ambitious, but it’s 2017 and a painted circus clown with doll hands is our president – anything can happen).
Just a thought.
 British Raj is when Britain ruled over India as a colony. I had to Google it too. Also, I googled Merle herself. She does not look Indian. She looks quite white. I suspect she might not even have been Asian, merely a transplanted Angle living in the subcontinent. But for the sake of the article, we shall press on as if she were ethnically Asian, because this is all just assumption and we should never assume. And also, if she’s not, that’s super depressing.