By Guest Contributor: Nicholas Wong
Last month, people around the world celebrated the underdog success of Korean film Parasite as it swept through the 92nd Academy Awards to win four Oscars. Each new award for the film ratcheted up a breathless excitement that culminated in a historic win for Best Picture, the first foreign-language film to ever take home that honour.
The victory was especially meaningful to Asian North Americans1Writing as I am from a Canadian context, I use the term “Asian North American” here to collectively refer to the broadly similar sociocultural categories of “Asian American” and “Asian Canadian”; however, I recognize that these categories warrant distinction under other analytical circumstances. , who took to social media in droves to express their pride in the film’s achievements. For decades, Asian North Americans have lamented the deplorable state of Asian representation in Western pop culture. In North American media, Asians have been either almost non-existent or, when portrayed, depicted through harmful racist stereotypes. In recent years, high-profile controversies surrounding films like Aloha and Ghost in the Shell – both of which featured the “whitewashing” of ostensibly Asian roles – have amplified the call for more Asian representation in Hollywood.
A positive shift in this cause has occurred over the past two years, with Asian-led films like Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, and The Farewell garnering box office success and critical acclaim. These films, all helmed by Asian directors and featuring Asian actors in starring roles, have been praised within the Asian North American community for proving the viability of Asians in pop culture, authentically portraying our experiences, and debunking stereotypes. Add on Parasite’s Best Picture win, and it would appear as though Asians have finally broken through Hollywood’s bamboo ceiling.
However, the reading of these films’ significance as primarily tied to their success in achieving Asian representation reveals a limited capacity for Asian North Americans to critically evaluate their own media. The perceived scarcity of – and consequent hunger for – Asian popular media representation has foreclosed the possibility of talking about our successes in anything but celebratory tones. “If we don’t support our own at all costs,” the thinking goes, “we may never get another chance.”