Hollywood’s 95th presentation of the Oscars—deemed the mother of all movie awards—is the most revealing in decades.
Asians won the top awards in the annual derby, with Malaysian Michelle Yeoh taking home the Best Actress plum for the seriocomic “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” It was the first time ever for an Asian woman.
The movie, described by critics and avid moviegoers worldwide as sci-fi and surreal, won for Ke Huy Quan, a Vietnamese of Chinese origins, the Best Supporting Actor award.
It was voted Best Picture, and one of the two men who shared the Best Director award, Daniel Kwan, is Chinese (his co-director, Daniel Scheinert, is an American).
Sure, Americans Brendan Fraser and Jamie Lee Curtis clinched the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress awards for “The Whale” and “Everything Everywhere …”, respectively. But the movements of winners onstage displayed Asian hegemony in the US awards season. (Earlier, the Golden Globes, National Board of Review, and Screenwriters Guild of America also chose Yeoh and other Asian film workers in “Everything Everywhere” for their top awards.)
Does this mean that people of color have finally made it on the big screen and the wider, bigger Hollywood, where whites have reigned all these decades? Is this the sweet revenge of the colored population of the imperial illusion-making machine?
According to Filipino British filmmaker Jowee Morel, the results of the 2023 Oscars were a political decision. “All the while, Hollywood has disregarded Asians and other minorities in the awards race. Now, Hollywood has decided to finally recognize them,” said Jowee from his farm in Laguna.
Many Filipinos, at home or in the diaspora, expressed pride at the Asian victory in the Oscars.
They cited the inclusion of Filipino actress Dolly de Leon in the elusive nomination sheets of the Golden Globes, Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), National Society of Film Critics, etc. for her sterling portrayal of the toilet lady in “Triangle of Sadness.” That satirical film by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund earlier triumphed in Cannes and was nominated as well in this year’s Oscars.
And Dolly had a special seat at the Dolby ceremony.
There are also filmmakers of Filipino descent who are sought after abroad and particularly in Hollywood, like the cinematographer Matthew Libatique.
So, are Philippine cinema and its artists finally ready for the big time in the global arena, which has been harped on and hyped every time a Filipino wins or is noticed in international film events?
Sadly, until now, no Filipino film production has hit the heart of foreign audiences in the wider market.
It’s true that Europe has made famous directors of Brillante Ma. Mendoza and Lav Diaz. Jaclyn Jose was 2016 Best Actress in Cannes, and John Arcilla was Volpi Cup Best Actor at the 2021 Venice filmfest. They are the darlings of international film festivals, but they have yet to make it in Hollywood, which is still the biggest market of blockbuster makers.
Not one PH entry
Since the start of the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film contest in 1956, no Philippine entry has ever been nominated or even shortlisted in the Top 10 slots out of hundreds of entries worldwide.
Why is that when we have always asserted that we are world-class talents? Is there politics, or racial issues, in the selection? A shortage of funds for the marketing and promotion of any film sent by the Film Academy of the Philippines, the only Filipino state agency recognized by the American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which annually gives out the Oscars)?
Are our film productions hackneyed and rehashed narratives? Of low quality? Lacking in advanced film tech?
As pointed out by the entertainment writer and filmmaker Will Provinio, the Philippines has rich sociocultural stories, even colorful political materials, which are unexplored, and generally resorts to formula movies that the global market rejects.
“International filmmakers, producers, marketers and investors have long warned against commercial productions, that these will not sit well with wider audiences abroad,” Will said.
Will the Asian victories in the recent Oscars finally pull the Philippine movie industry out of the world-cinema cellar? Or are our movies only good for local viewing? (Of course, pandemic or not, many Filipino films have flopped at the local box office.)
Hope springs eternal.