October 5, 2022

By Diana Cheng
AAP Film and Arts Writer

Continuing her history-making streak in the Awards Season, Chloé Zhao reaches the summit as she becomes the first woman of color and the first Asian woman to be nominated for Oscar Best Director and her film “Nomadland” for Best Motion Picture. The Academy Awards nominations were announced early Monday morning, March 15. 

Frances McDormand and Director/Writer Chloé Zhao on the set of NOMADLAND. Photo by Joshua James Richards. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

“Nomadland” garners six Oscar nominations in total. For Zhao personally: Best Motion Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing, all the categories that she had multi-tasked for the feature.  A Best Actress nomination goes to Frances McDormand, and Cinematography to Joshua James Richards, who had worked on Zhao’s previous films “The Rider” and “Songs my brother taught me”. This is Richards’ second time becoming an Academy Award nominee for his work. His first was for ‘The Rider’.

Like “Nomadland”, Korean American Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is nominated in six categories: Best Picture, Directing, and Original Screenplay for Chung, Best Actor for Steven Yeun, the first actor of Asian descent to be nominated for the category. A Best Supporting Actress nom for Youn Yuh-jung, and Best Music (Original Score) for Emile Mosseri.  

MINARI_00195_R Alan S. Kim, Steven Yeun Director Lee Isaac Chung Credit: Melissa Lukenbaugh/A24

Both “Nomadland” and “Minari” become the second most Oscar-nominated films by a director of Asian descent. Taiwanese-American Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” (2012) has the most Oscar nominations in seven categories. It won four for Directing, Cinematography, Music, and Visual Effects.

With Zhao and Chung’s recognitions come a possible breakthrough of the so-called “bamboo ceiling” in the film industry. Asian actors and talents are often stereotyped and cast for roles according to their outward appearance as Asian. 

In another historic first, Riz Ahmed becomes the first Muslim nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his starring role in “The Sound of Metal”, which has also collected six Oscar noms. In an “Actors on Actors” YouTube video, Ahmed, a British Pakistani, talks with Steven Yeun, star of “Minari”, about representation and typecast. For brown-skin actors like himself would be the terrorists in a movie, for Asian men like Yeun, the Kung Fu master. In “Minari”, Steven Yeun is a father, an immigrant to America, a representation of many.

In yet another historic record, 70 women has collected a total of 76 nominations in this 93rd Academy Awards, the most number in any year of Oscar history. Hopefully, a breakout of the ‘celluloid ceiling’ is beginning to trend. Further, two women appearing at the same time in the Best Director category, Zhao and Emerald Fennell, helmer of “Promising young woman”, is also a first in Oscar history. Fennell’s feature receives 5 nominations.

While the Academy Awards is scheduled for April 25th, the nomination announcement on March 15th looks to be a winner already in terms of diversity and the breaking of ceilings. 

For a full list of the 2021 nominees, go to the official Oscar site.

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Contact Diana Cheng at [email protected], on Twitter @Arti_Ripples or her blog Ripple Effects rippleeffects.reviews

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