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Guide to Asian and Asian American Representation at the Oscars 2024

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With the 96th Academy Awards just around the corner, we reflect on another year of Asian American media. Following major hits of recent years like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Minari, and Parasite, the nominated films of 2024 delve into quieter narratives of resilience, stories beneath the surface, and deeply personal journeys. While we may not anticipate another groundbreaking moment at this year’s ceremony akin to the success of Everything Everywhere, which will forever be remembered among Asian Americans as a defining moment in history, this year’s nominees continue to illuminate the diverse breadth of Asian and Asian American experiences that are resonating with audiences around the world.

In preparation for the Oscars taking place on Sunday, March 10, we at CAAM curated the following list of some of the nominated films featuring Asian and Asian American films and creatives that you should be on the lookout for.

Short Documentaries

The Barber of Little Rock
Nomination: Documentary Short Film



The Barber of Little Rock examines the racial wealth gap in America through the story of Arlo Washington, a local barber who forms a nonprofit community bank in Little Rock, Arkansas with the hope of uplifting his community which has historically been excluded from the financial stability and economic mobility offered by financial institutions.

The documentary was directed and produced by John Hoffman and Christine Turner, who is a Chinese-Black filmmaker originally from San Francisco. 2023 CAAM Fellow Andy Sarjahani was also involved as the short film’s cinematographer.

The Barber of Little Rock is part of the New Yorker Documentary series, which highlights shorts that offer uncommon perspectives on important issues. You can watch the short film on The New Yorker’s website here.



Island In Between


Nomination: Documentary Short Film




Island In Between is another film nominated in the category of Documentary Short Film, and its director S. Leo Chiang and producer Jean Tsien are both veteran documentary filmmakers and have been CAAM mentors.

In the short documentary, Chiang reflects on the long-held tensions between Taiwan and China, and contemplates an uncertain future. Framed around the rural Taiwanese outer islands of Kinmen, just two miles from the coast of China, Chiang pieces together beautiful footage from tourist visits while sharing reflections from his own experiences having been born in Taiwan, raised in the United States, and worked extensively in China.

“[This mix of experiences] has given me a front-row seat to the decades-long complex dance between these nations,” says Chiang. “I made this film hoping to contribute to a deeper understanding of the Taiwan Strait Crisis through the eyes of the people who live in it, including myself. I hope that my film can play a small part in advocating for peace.”

Island In Between is published as part of Op-Docs, The New York Times’s award-winning short documentary film series. The 18-minute film is currently available to stream for free on YouTube.



Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó


Nomination: Documentary Short Film


Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó is a deeply personal film for director Sean Wang because it centers on the decades-long friendship between his two grandmas, Yi Yan Fuei and Zhang Li Hua. In the span of the 15-minute short documentary, we fall in love with the two extraordinary women who reflect on their lives, and seem to embrace each passing moment to the fullest. Even the most mundane moments Sean captures from his grandmas’ everyday lives – like completing chores around the house, dancing together outside, and watching Superbad together at home – feel deeply profound.

The best way to describe this film is a warm and fuzzy embrace from start to finish. Sean’s grandmas’ approach to life is something to be admired, and the film serves as a reminder to seek out the happiness in the small things of life. “The days we spend feeling pain and the days we spend feeling joy are the same days spent. So I’m going to choose joy,” says Yi Yan Fuei.

If you weren’t able to check out Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó when it screened at CAAMFest 2023, you’re in luck: the film is currently streaming on Disney+. This is Wang’s first Academy Award nomination and it’s clear the Fremont native is one on the rise. Wang, a first generation Taiwanese-American, also recently finished his first full-length feature film Dìdi, which received the U.S. Dramatic audience award at Sundance Film Festival this year.



Feature Films

Past Lives


Nomination: Best Picture, Writing (Original Screenplay)


We featured Past Lives in a “Short Takes” column last summer when the film caught buzz and captivated the hearts of Asian Americans across the country. Directed by Korean-Canadian filmmaker Celine Song, Past Lives follows the friendship between two childhood friends over the course of 24 years. The film was one of the most talked-about films amongst young Asian Americans last year and for good reason. Who can forget that final heart-breaking sequence as Nora walks home and breaks down into tears? That scene lives rent-free in my mind, even six months after having watched the film.

Past Lives is up for two awards at the Oscars this year for Writing (Original Screenplay) and the Best Picture. And though these nominations are beyond deserved, we also wanted to acknowledge individuals who may not have received nominations but were driving forces behind making Past Lives the emotional, poignant film that resonated so strongly with audiences. This, of course, includes Song as the film’s masterful director and Greta Lee, who so naturally embodied protagonist Nora.



Elemental


Nomination: Animated Feature Film


Pixar’s Elemental is in the running to be crowned as the best Animated Feature Film. Korean American filmmaker Peter Sohn has called the movie a “love letter” to his immigrant parents, who left Korea in the 1960s to start a new life in New York and provide for him and his brother.

Though the film opened below projections, Elemental experienced a remarkable box office rebound as audiences worldwide turned up to the theater to support the star-crossed love story between fire heroine Ember and water character Wade. The romantic comedy film is not only a stunning work of animation, but a genuinely touching film that tackles major themes like familial sacrifice, overcoming cultural differences, and discovering one’s self.



The Boy and the Heron


Nomination: Animated Feature Film


Another film we’ll call out in the Animated Feature Film category is The Boy and the Heron, a Japanese animated fantasy film that was written and directed by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

If you’re familiar with some of Miyazaki’s work, you’ll know that his movies aren’t easily summed up in a few words – and The Boy and the Heron is no different. It boasts all the hallmarks of a quintessential Miyazaki film: a whimsical world, charming characters, breathtaking hand-drawn animation. The plot follows a boy named Mahito during the Pacific War who, shortly after his mother’s death, finds himself in a bizarre, fantastical world.



More Films of Note


Nimona, a queer medieval fantasy featuring the voices of Riz Ahmed and CAAMFest alum Eugene Lee Yang, is nominated for Best Animated Feature.

The Creator, a science fiction film about the perils of AI whose cast includes Gemma Chan and Ken Watanabe, is nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound.

Are you tuning in for this year’s Academy Awards ceremony? What Asian and Asian American films are you most rooting for? Leave a comment or post on Instagram or TikTok and tag @caamedia.
 
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