A Year for the Asian Diaspora: Oscars 2023


By Jhanvi Vipin


Most of us grew up watching the Oscars. To describe it in a few words? Gorgeous. Glamorous. Glorious. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Oscars, it fulfills my need to see celebrities having a ball at a place I may never go to. However, as a South Asian myself, it was rare to see people who looked like me, and of other ethnicities win awards at the event. For that reason, this year’s Academy Awards was monumental for people of Asian descent. 2023 was a year for diversity and Oscars followed suit – from the cufflinks to the tailcoat. Let’s take a look at some of the critical moments.

Michelle Yeoh made history as she became the first ever South-East Asian woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once. Her role in the movie was Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant laundromat manager who gets involved in alternate realities. Yeoh received a standing ovation as she claimed her award, and said “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight. This is the beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof – dream big and dreams do come true.” She continues, “And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you that you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”

Ke Huy Quan, who acted as Yeoh’s husband Waymond Wang in the movie, also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Quan, a former child actor, rose to fame as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and as Data in The Goonies, but found difficulty finding roles as an adult in the United States. He eventually quit acting, and for the next decade, worked behind the scenes as a stunt choreographer and production assistant in various films in Asia and the US. Quan was inspired to act again due to the success of Crazy Rich Asians. He was in tears as he said “Mom …, I just won an Oscar!”, he continued saying “ My journey started on a boat, I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.”

The Oscars were also a proud moment for many Indians as  The Elephant Whisperers became the first Indian film to win Best Documentary Short Film. The Tamil-language film is the debut directory of Kartiki Gonsalves and was produced by Guneet Monga. The film is about an indigenous couple who take in an orphaned baby elephant and raise it like their own child. Upon receiving the award, Gonsalves said “I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and the natural world, for the respect of indigenous communities and empathy towards other living beings we share our space with, and finally for coexistence, thank you to the Academy for recognising our film and highlighting indigenous people and animals..”

The song ‘Naatu Naatu’ from the Indian film RRR also won an Oscar for Best Original Song. Naatu Naatu had previously won a Golden Globe for the same title as well as the Critics Choice Awards. MM Keeravani, the composer of the song, sang his speech, calling Naatu Naatu the “pride of every Indian.”

With so many historical moments at the Oscars, it’s not a tall tale to say that the Asian diaspora was victorious this year. The acclaim that the community has received in the West and all over the globe has been not only true representation, but a source of genuine pride and joy. Imagining all the Asian youths looking up at the television screen, realising that they have that same chance is the reason representation is so important. Perhaps we may see true diversity in cinema, with people of all ethnicities finding roles that were made for them to play. At least we should expect that at the 100th Academy Awards!