We’re less than one week away from the 95th Academy Awards, and this year has already proven to be an especially historic awards season for Asian Americans.
If you are familiar with the recent history of the Academy Awards, you’ll know it was only eight years ago that the Academy Awards came under fire after #OscarsSoWhite took over the Internet and pressured the Academy to change its ways. Three years ago marked the first time that a film featuring an entirely Asian cast won “Best Picture” when Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite won the esteemed accolade. In 2021, Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman to win “Best Director” for her work on Nomadland.
And history continues to be made with the 2023 Oscars nominations, with four Asian nominees (Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Hong Chau) recognized in acting categories – a new record. In another historic nomination, Yeoh (a first-time nominee) is also the first “Best Actress” nominee to openly identify as Asian, according to Forbes. Yeoh and Quan’s SAG Awards for “Best Female Actor in a Lead Role” and “Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role,” as well as the “Best Cast in a Motion Picture Award,” are further building anticipation for the Oscars.
The Academy Awards are always known as one of the biggest nights for Hollywood, but this year’s awards ceremony is sure to go down in the history books for Asian Americans. To prepare for the Oscars on Sunday, March 12, we at CAAM put together a list of nominated films featuring Asian and Asian American films and creatives that you should know.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
Nominations: Best Picture, Writing (Original Screenplay), Film Editing, Directing, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role (2x), Costume Design, Music – Original Score, Music – Original Song
When I sat down to watch Everything Everywhere All at Once last March, I knew I was experiencing something special. A film centered on a Chinese-American immigrant who must connect with different versions of herself from parallel universes in order to save the multiverse? A wild concept to base a film on and yet, directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert manage to not only pull it off, but deliver a masterpiece of a film that is in the running for 11 Oscars – the most nominated film of the ceremony this year. Reported by Variety, Kwan is also the third Asian person ever after Bong Joon Ho (director of Parasite) and Chloé Zhao (director of Nomadland) to be nominated for a “hat trick,” meaning he has picked up nominations for Best Picture, Directing and Screenplay.
Everything Everywhere All at Once was one of the most talked about films of 2022, and for good reason. If you’ve seen the film already (or just glanced at its list of nominations), you’ll know there is a lot to love. The movie refuses to fit into any “genre” checkbox, blending elements of sci-fi, martial arts, comedy and fantasy all in one. The film’s story and writing are refreshingly original, while stunning visuals and costumes are unlike anything you’ve seen before. On top of that, performances are top notch across the board, with the legendary Michelle Yeoh commanding every scene alongside outstanding performances by co-stars like Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Regardless of the awards outcomes come March 12, it’s easy to see Everything Everywhere All at Once has forever cemented itself in the history of Asian and Asian American cinema.
Nominations: Actress in a Supporting Role
The Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role is definitely one to watch, with two actresses nominated from Everything Everywhere All at Once (Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis) and a first-time nomination for Hong Chau for her performance in A24’s psychological drama The Whale. This marks the first time two women of Asian descent have been nominated for this category in the same year.
Chau brilliantly takes on her role in The Whale with a level of genuinity and poise. Based on a 2012 play, The Whale centers on Charlie, a reclusive college writing teacher who never leaves his apartment and is struggling with severe obesity. Chau plays Charlie’s compassionate yet unapologetically candid friend named Liz.
Chau’s superb acting captivates in every scene she’s in, making her more than deserving of this Oscar nomination. You can feel her pain during emotional moments of the film, and empathize with her heartbreak watching her friend’s health deteriorate before her eyes.
It’s been a great year for the Vietnamese-American actress, having shone in this role and also featured in the American comedy horror film The Menu. It’s about time Chau is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Nominations: Animated Feature Film
Directed by Domee Shi (who also directed Pixar’s much-loved short Bao), Turning Red is an animated film starring a spunky, lovable 13 year old named Meilin “Mei” Lee. After Mei experiences a nightmare about red pandas, she discovers she has transformed into one herself, and realizes this happens anytime she is experiencing strong emotions.
In classic Pixar fashion, Turning Red is a joyous and heartfelt film from start to finish. It’s a coming-of-age film, but one that fully embraces the messiness of puberty and growing up. I love how this film showcases a relatable group of female friends who lift each other up and support each other – all while jamming out to 4*Town, the fictional boy band they all adore.
With Turning Red marking Shi’s directorial debut (and the first Pixar movie featuring an Asian American storyline), Shi has delivered a deeply personal and sincere film that I know I wish I had when I was in middle school.
All That Breathes
Nominations: Documentary Feature Film
All That Breathes first had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2022, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Since then, the film has also received the Golden Eye award (awarded to the best documentary) at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and won Best Picture at the International Documentary Association Awards 2022. It’s clear this eye-opening documentary has resonated with audiences and taken the documentary world by storm since its release, and this momentum continues with its nomination for best Documentary Feature Film at the Academy Awards this year.
This is the second film Shaunak Sen has directed, focused on two brothers (Saud and Nadeem) who are dedicated to caring for black kites, a common type of bird in New Delhi, India. New Delhi suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the world, which has taken a toll on its people and creatures – including the injured birds Saud and Nadeem tend to in their makeshift bird clinic.
All That Breathes is a powerful documentary that showcases the effects of climate change, delves into the interconnectedness of our world and still provides a hopeful message to viewers by sharing the story of these two brothers doing their best despite every obstacle in their way.
Toward the end of the documentary, one of the brothers beautifully sums up why their work matters, saying, “You don’t care for things because they share the same country, religion or politics. Life itself is kinship. We’re all a community of air.”
The Elephant Whisperers
Nominations: Documentary Short Film
Marking Kartiki Gonsalves’s directorial debut, The Elephant Whisperers is a documentary short film that tells the touching story of an indigenous couple living in Tamil Nadu who have dedicated their lives to caring for baby elephants. The film specifically focuses on their relationship with an orphaned elephant named Raghu, who the couple raise like one of their own children.
With a runtime of about 40 minutes, The Elephant Whisperers is a short watch and one that is definitely worth your time. The film captures the natural beauty of South India with imagery and cinematography that are nothing short of breathtaking. But on top of that, seeing the relationship between these elephants and their caretakers is sure to move you.
Nominations: Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Living is a British drama film centered on an “ordinary” man named Rodney Williams, a bureaucrat living in 1950s London who is forced to reexamine his own life after receiving a terminal prognosis.
Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro penned the screenplay for Living, adapted from the 1952 Japanese movie Ikiru. In several interviews, the Nobel Prize-winning writer recounts how he saw Ikiru in theaters as a young boy and how the film and its message had a profound effect on him.
Living is a deeply intimate film, and one that leaves audiences reflecting on their own mortality and life’s deeper questions about how we will be remembered and how we find meaning in our own lives. It’s a hauntingly beautiful film, and Ishiguro does Ikiru justice with his take on it.
Nominations: Music – Original Song
Directed by S. S. Rajamouli, RRR tells a fictionalized story that imagines a world where real-life Indian revolutionaries Rama Raju (played by Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (played by Rama Rao) met during the British Raj in the 1920s.
The captivating song “Naatu Naatu” comes at a pivotal point in the film, when these two characters engage in an elaborate dance battle and stand up to their oppressors. The musical number has found viral success around the world, sparking reaction videos on the Internet and even impromptu dance parties at movie theaters. Composed by M. M. Keeravaani, the song takes its name from a Telugu expression that translates to “Dance Dance” in English.
Keeravaani made history earlier this year at the 80th Golden Globe Awards, as “Naatu Naatu” was the first Asian (in addition to the first Indian) song to ever win the award. “Naatu Naatu” is also the first song from an Indian film to score a nomination for “Best Original Song” at the Academy Awards.
Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the 95th Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood will air on Sunday, March 12 beginning at 5 p.m. PT on ABC stations and selected streaming services.