Oscar Night!

Oscars 2009 - Slumdog Millionaire Cast

Slumdog Millionaire Cast- Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Dev Patel at the Oscars (2009)

 The new face of America’s global cinema.

The Academy Awards aren’t generally a big night for Asian Americans — after all, there haven’t been many noteworthy Asian American wins, and little recognition given overall within the community. This year, with the dominance of Slumdog Millionaire, it was exciting to see Asian faces light up the screen. Despite the fact that the movie can hardly be considered “Asian American,” given its British crew and Indian locale, we’re crossing our fingers that its impact will nevertheless be felt throughout the Asian American entertainment world.

Some of the major arguments used by studios against casting Asian Americans in lead roles is that they are unheard of, or that mainstream audiences won’t come to see Asian actors. While we strongly disagree with the implication that Asian Americans aren’t part of “mainstream audiences”, or that there aren’t enough Asian Americans going to movie theaters to warrant Asian American faces or narratives (um, hello, the spending power of Asian Americans is predicted to be $528 billion this year…do you think they don’t spend that on media?), we now have a terrific counterargument for both claims. Slumdog has shown that mainstream audiences will devotedly pour into the theaters to see actors they have never heard of, and stories that take place a world away. As long as the storytelling is strong and the narrative is compelling, there is always room to expand our image of what an actor, or a mainstream film, should look like.

While the film is still potentially problematic for its glorification of third-world poverty and what may or may not be exploitation of its child actors, we gleefully applaud the recognition of a film that opens our doors to a new idea of what American cinema could be.

Posted on http://manaa.blogspot.com

Interview with Asian American Oscar Nominee


MANAA member Lori Kido Lopez recently had the opportunity to interview Oscar nominee Steven Okazaki, who is up for short documentary yet again this year. One of the topics that came up was the absence of Asian Americans at these award shows — a topic that MANAA cares about a lot! Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

LKL: Big award shows like these are starting to recognize more African American filmmakers and performers, do you ever look around and wonder where the other Asian Americans are, or when their work is going to be recognized?

Okazaki: Well, I just won an Emmy a couple of months ago and the guy who handed the award to me was the actor on Heroes, and so I said, the first thing I said when I got up on stage was something like, wow, two Asian Americans on stage at one time. That doesn’t happen. When you said there were a lot of Asian Americans [nominated for Academy Awards], I guess…it seems like there should be a lot more. I think that Asian Americans are still really pigeon-holed, particularly the actors. I think the directors and producers are as well. I think I’m lucky, I work with HBO and they, I’m an independent filmmaker but I work with HBO a lot, and they don’t see me as an Asian American filmmaker, they see me as a filmmaker. Where I worked previously there were certain, you should only do Asian American subjects, and your opportunities are really limited. Obviously the actors suffer most for that. There are these tiny little breakthroughs, usually those are like one part in a motion picture or television season. I think it’s still rather dismal compared to what an important part Asian Americans play in our society and in our culture in general.

LKL: You’ve made a lot of movies about Japanese Americans and their stories. Do you think you’re done with making movies about Japanese Americans?

Okazaki: No I don’t think so. I think that I actually haven’t made that many about Japanese Americans, I’ve just made like two out of 20 films. I think that I wanted to explore different subjects from my own creative range, but I do see myself as Asian American filmmaker. I do think telling Asian American stories is important and a fulfilling thing for me. It’s not necessarily a mission or a chore, I find it a really fulfilling thing to connect. And making documentaries gives you an opportunity to dig really deep, deeper than if you were just having a conversation with someone, it gives you license. There were Japanese American subjects, sure, I think at the same time I really think it’s bad enough that people try to limit you because of what you are, so at the same time I want to open up those possibilities as well in terms of the kinds of things I can do. I’ve tried to do a range of documentaries and mess around with narrative films and thing. For me the biggest danger is being bracketed as one thing, or being limited to do only one kind of film or genre. That’s what I’ve tried to put my energy into. To fully express myself as a filmmaker. But I’m hoping to do other things related to the Asian American community. We’re working on things now, and I’m hoping to do things totally unrelated, things relevant and irrelevant as possible.

To read the whole interview, check out VC Online