By Adriane Kong and Emma Federer.
Despite the hardship 2020 brought, people all over the world turned to the arts. Asian creators this year especially have given us thought-provoking music and comforting films. But, as Asian creators continue to make their voices heard, they have not received due recognition from Western-based award shows.
This came to head when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that “Minari” would be in the foreign language category at the upcoming Golden Globes. “Minari” is almost entirely in Korean, but takes place in Kansas and has a predominately American cast and crew. Still, this follows a history of American award shows sidelining foreign works, especially by Asian artists.
So we decided to take this time to acknowledge the creators that brought us some fabulous Asian-lead creations in 2020.
Minari is the story of Lee Isaac Chung’s own childhood as the son of Korean immigrants in rural Arkansas. This heartaching story depicts the complicated generational gap between a young boy and his elderly grandmother and the trials of a married couple trying to make ends meet on a fledgling farm.
All of this is layered with the difficulties experienced by an immigrant family trying to assimilate. The movie takes an uplifting turn as it shows how religion can unite people from around the world.
When it was presented at Sundance this year, “Minari” won the coveted Grand Jury Prize. People expected it to be a Best Picture contender at the Oscars. With “Parasite”’s sweep last year, American audiences were warming up to Korean storytelling. Critics predicted “Minari” would outshine its competitors with a story rooted in a diasporic family simply being American.
People were rightfully outraged when “Minari” was relegated to be only a Best Foreign Language Film contender.
- Emma Federer
Your Name Engraved Herein
This film is just as dramatic and tragic as the title suggests. Your Name Engraved Herein is a coming-of-age story about two boys, Chang Jia-han (A-han) and Wang Bo Te (Birdy), as they fall in love. Although they have feelings for each other, they are never able to fully embrace their relationship because of societal expectations.
The cinematography and production of this film is on par with films like “Call Me By Your Name.” But unlike “Call Me By Your Name,” it has received little exposure internationally.
Your Name Engraved Herein skillfully recreated the wonderful feeling of first love. It tore my heart out and put it back together. Easily an underrated film, it deserves just as much recognition as it’s western counterparts. It is now easily available on Netflix!
- Adriane Kong
Rina Sawayama has been described as “one of the most important artists in the industry right now." She explores her Japanese-British identity and stereotypes of Asian women in a wild fusion of pop, metal and R&B in her debut album “Sawayama.”
Sawayama explores western fetishistion of Japanese culture in songs like ‘Tokyo Love Hotel” in a way that pop has never seen. The world was taken with her polished and clever sound.
“Sawayama” was one of the best-reviewed albums of the year in both the U.S. and the U.K., setting it up for Grammy recognition. But when the nominations came out in November, Sawayama’s name was conspicuously absent.
Fans were understandably outraged.
Sawayama herself responded to the backlash with grace.
BTS ( 방탄소년단: Bangtan Sonyeondan)
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve heard of BTS. Whether you’ve been a fan since their debut in 2013 or you jam to Dynamite when it’s on the radio, BTS has made their way into your life one way or another.
BTS has attracted a fanbase that transcends age, race and gender. Their music centers on healing, self-love and following your dreams. This year they donated one million dollars to Black Lives Matter, which was matched by BTS’s fandom ARMY.
They also make absolute bops! While it seems like everyone and their mothers love BTS, they haven’t gained the recognition they deserve from their fellow musicians, particularly the Recording Academy.
This hesitancy might stem from xenophobia, unwillingness to understand another language, or rejection of the K-Pop industry’s infamous reputation. Fans found this unacceptable.
BTS was finally nominated at this year’s Grammys for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. But many fans felt that BTS was snubbed, especially since their album “Map of the Soul: 7” is a top selling album of 2020.
American singer-songwriter Jhene Aiko has established her talent. She started her career as a member of the R&B group B2K and her debut solo album “Sailing Soul(s)” launched her into the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2011.
On her third album “Chilombo,” Aiko sings a song about her healing journey following the loss of her brother, Miyagi Chilombo, who passed away of cancer in 2012. Aiko describes her music as a form of therapy that has allowed her to move past debilitating grief. Her album is an hour and a half of personal and intimate journaling.
Aiko also tuned the songs to align with chakras. In an interview with Billboard, she stated, “‘P*$$Y Fairy (OTW)’ is in the key of D, so I played a bowl in the note of D. D corresponds with your second chakra (sacral chakra), which governs your sexual organs below your navel and your hips. So even though the song is fun and sexy, there’s an actual healing instrument in there to help balance you out in those areas.”
With music so genuine, Jhene Aiko must be recognized for her emotional brilliance.
Nora Lum aka Awkwafina is an actress, musician, comedian and writer who has been working hard this year! In 2020 she was the first person of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in the category of Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in “The Farewell.”
This year she also released a sitcom called “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens.” The Comedy Central show revolves around Nora, a woman in her 20s just trying to figure out what to do with her life. It is very #relatable.
The show is inspired by Awkwafina’s own experience growing up in Queens. It is hilarious and heartwarming. While it did not gain a huge following, the show has been renewed for a second season and is deserving of more support.