Race Card: Oscars Continue to Ignore Asian Americans and U.S.-Born Latinos

Nadra Kareem Nittle
View profile »

Just 14 years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a boycott of the Academy Awards due to the dearth of African American entertainers nominated for Oscars. In the new millennium, however, the Academy Awards have consistently nominated blacks for Oscars. Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Jen Hudson and Forest Whitaker have all nabbed Academy Awards in recent years. And Sophie Okonedo, Will Smith and Don Cheadle are among the blacks to receive nominations in the 2000s.

When the Oscars were announced today, we learned that Mo'Nique, Lee Daniels and Gabourey Sidibe are all nominated for their work in "Precious." Because that movie has come under fire for depicting urban blacks as dysfunctional, not to mention promoting colorism, it's safe to say that the African American community isn't uniformly thrilled about the nominations of this trio (not that the Af Am community uniformly agrees on anything), but at least blacks can say that they were counted among the ranks during the ceremony. Outside of the "Precious" crew, Morgan Freeman received an Oscar nod for portraying Nelson Mandela in "Invictus" and "The Princess and the Frog," which features Disney's first black princess, received a nod for Best Animated Film.

Latinos and Asian Americans, on the other hand, can't say that the Oscars represents entertainers from their communities. While the Academy Awards periodically acknowledge Asians and Latinos from other countries, Asian-Americans and Latinos from the U.S. have routinely been overlooked by the Oscars. Benicio del Toro, who was born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, is a notable exception. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2001 for his work in "Traffic."

Clearly a major reason that Asians and Latinos haven't been recognized by the Oscars very frequently is because they're not well represented in film overall. But the time for change is way past due. The number of Americans who identify as Hispanic in the U.S. is slightly more than those who identify as black, so there's no excuse for the lack of Latino representation in American film.

In 1993, the gang film "Mi Vida Loca" set out to put Latinos on the film map. Then, nearly ten years later, came much buzzed about "Real Women Have Curves" in 2002. Despite the buzz these films got, Jennifer Lopez remains about the only American Latino film star that the public can name. As for Asian Americans, films like the much hyped "Better Luck Tomorrow" (2002) and "The Namesake" (2006) set out to give them more recognition, but Asian American actors remain under the film world's radar for the most part. Worsening matters is that in films based on true stories involving Asian Americans, such as 2008's "21," whites were cast to play the leads instead. Why is this acceptable in the 2000s? It's like Mr. Yunioshi from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) all over again, but without the buck teeth, taped eyes and exaggerated accent.

When Jesse Jackson staged his boycott of the Oscars in 1996, he shone a spotlight on the blackout of sorts taking place in U.S. film. Now, it's time we shine a light on why there's been a brown out and yellow out in American cinema year after year. A decade from now, do we really want to endure another Oscar nomination ceremony where the nominees include a handful of blacks, a few other people of color from foreign countries and no Asian American or American-born Latinos?

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

7 Comments Have Been Posted

I can also name Penelope Cruz

She was the first Latina (forgive my unfortunately scant knowledge of Oscar history) that I know of to win an Oscar (for her role in "Volver," made by the ever-questionable Pedro Almodovar) and has been nominated again for her role in "Nine." I personally consider her to be underrated and far more credible an actor than the overrated and ... yes ... overexposed "J-Lo." That said, she indeed deserves better roles and representation in films.

She's Spanish.

She's Spanish.

also forgive ...

... my unfortunate confusion between Latinas/Latinos from Spaniards [sic?]. I forget sometimes that Spanish and Latina/latinos are not all the same in language, heritage, culture ... Indeed there are distinctive variations of them. Meant no disrespect.

Spanish vs. American Latinos

The Spanish conquered Latin America and the indigenous peoples living there. The word Latino usually encompasses those of Spanish and indigenous (and sometimes black) ancestry. People from Spain, on the other hand, are considered white. Also, Latinos and Asian Americans are constantly regarded as foreigners, which is one reason I don't think they've been fully embraced in American cinema, so it's not so revolutionary to nominate a foreign-born Asian or Spanish person for an Oscar, esp. if it's in the foreign film category.


The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the Oscar seems to do a great job of reinforcing many systems of oppression, in addition to racism. A woman has never won Best Director (although Kathryn Bigelow was just nominated, so this could be the year), and overall very few women are nominated for Oscars. I can't think of a single disabled actor or filmmaker that's ever been nominated for anything (although I can think of several non-disabled actors that have been nominated for playing disabled people). Older actors are rarely nominated.

Overall, it seems like a big party for middle aged white men to congratulate each other. Blah. Let's start our own non-oppressive film awards party!

Another "exception"

The director Ang Lee won an Oscar in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain. But he was born in Taiwan so fits into the category of the "periodically acknowledged" non-US Asians, even though he has worked on other American movies.

Just scroll through a list of

Just scroll through a list of American films and television shows on Netflix or Blockbuster. Asians barely even exist in movies. Hollywood tries to portray reality, but all we ever see is shiny White faces, with the ocasional Black supporting actor. With a system like that do you really expect an Asian actor to be celebrated, yet alone AWARDED for their performance?

Add new comment