Triumphant night for Asian women at Oscars . . .
Sunday’s 93rd Annual Academy Awards contained a few history-making moments in acknowledging the achievements of Asian female filmmakers. Beijing-born Chloe Zhao, who won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director in February, became the first woman of colour and the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. Her film Nomadland also received this year’s award for Best Picture. South Korean veteran actress Yun Yuh-jung earned the Best Supporting Actress award for her role in Minari, making her the first Korean to win an Oscar in the acting category. Filipino-American singer-songwriter H.E.R also won for Best Original Song.
No celebration in Beijing . . .
While Yun’s historic Oscar win was celebrated not only by Koreans but also by audiences from Japan and China, news of Zhao’s success was censored in her native country. Accusing her of making comments criticizing China in 2013, the propaganda authorities recently decided to censor Zhao and advised media outlets not to broadcast and to play down this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Soon after Zhao’s win was announced, relevant posts were removed, and the names of the director, the film, and the word “Oscars” became unsearchable on China’s Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo. Before Zhao’s critical comments came to light, her Golden Globe victory was praised as “the pride of China” by state media and netizens.
The challenge of building cultural confidence . . .
While China overtook the United States as the world’s largest movie market last year, there is still a gap between how successful films in China are received beyond Chinese-speaking communities. Chinese-made films like Wolf Warrior 2 and Hi Mom, among the globally top-grossing films last year, often lack international appeal. This presents a dilemma for Beijing, which is working hard to project soft power and build the notion of Chinese “cultural confidence.” Increasingly, the space for expression and storytelling is getting squeezed for creators who are censored or who self-censor. Significant challenges remain for Chinese authorities to reconcile their political agenda with their cultural vision.