Emil Guillermo: Oscars? Here's the Emil for Best Minimal Presence by an Asian American in a Best Picture nominee

February 21, 2015 4:02 PM

By the time you read this, the whole world will have watched the Oscars. And while there's a great chance of someone on the red carpet "wearing an Asian American," I am sure of this: There's absolutely no chance an Asian American will win in any of the major categories. Not Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor. Best Actor in Support Hose. Nothing.

Again. That's always the way it is. No dearth of talent among us Asian Americans. Just a dearth of Oscar support. (Not one nomination for Harold and Kumar ever? What is the academy NOT smoking?)

That's why it is necessary in my one-man academy (100 percent people of color) to make up a category that Asian Americans are sure to qualify for.

I call it the Emil for best minimal presence by an Asian American in a major motion picture nominated for best picture. 

This is a very specific category. And it is loaded with suspects, I mean, nominees this year.

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Remember, the actors all had to be recognizable for at least a second in movies nominated for best picture. My nominees are:  

1. From "Birdman," Keenan Shimizu, who played Han. Now here's a guy with the prototypical Asian American acting career. He was Big Father in the 2001 Louis C.K. classic, "Pootie Tang." And on the small screen, he acts so well that on "Law and Order," he's played Det. Kwan, Asian Tech Guy Hsu, and a Deli Owner. That's the Asian character trifecta!

2. From "Birdman," Akira Ito, who plays a translator so well, I don't even remember him being in the movie. True invisibility--in any language!

3. From "Boyhood," Andrea Chen, who played "Sam's Roommate," the great enabler. Chen enters her dorm room and finds Mason, the boy in "Boyhood," with his girlfriend studying "biology," if you catch my drift.  Chen says she'll be back, in a way that pays homage to Schwarzenegger. Scene stealer! And she didn't need 12 years to nail the role.

4. From "The Imitation Game," are you kidding?

5. From the "Theory of Anything," all that high minded science stuff, and I didn't see one Asian American.

6. From "Whiplash," Stephen Hsu, guitar, and Tian Wang, piano, were boys in the band. And how's this for true sub-minimal treatment: They are uncredited. That really sets the standard high for minimal presence---they were in the negative, absolutely unrecognizable. Their sub-presence is so low it edges out Kavita Patil, a lovely and accomplished actress, who usually plays Indian doctors, nurses and health care workers on TV and in the movies. In "Whiplash," Patil plays....Sophie, the assistant!  And she got a credit. Sorry Kavita--that's way too much recognition already. 

I know you're saying what about Zero from "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the lovely Indian ...nope. Tony Revolori is from Guatamala, and not technically Asian. Besides, he should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, just for his hat. The Lobby Boy made that movie! But alas, zero for Zero. Robbed.

And as for that "American Sniper" actor Mido Hamada, who played the Butcher, he was born in Cairo. Technically, Middle Eastern people are considered Asian in a broad sense. But in this movie, the transgressions are on a totally different level so as to disqualify them for the "minimal presence" award. 

And that leaves us with our winner: (Drumroll, please...)

The winner for Best Minimal Presence by an Asian American in a major motion picture nominated for Best Picture goes to Selma," for the minimal Asian American presence of Steven Kiyoshi Kuromiya. 

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And just when you thought there were no Asian Americans at Selma. (It's sort of like the Oscars; we're there somewhere.)

If you don't know about Kuromiya, he was a creative activist, an SDSer, who became an aide to Dr. King and then later a loud and proud AIDS activist for ACT UP. He actually was beaten up in the earlier Selma marches.

Kuromiya wasn't technically in the film. But my "AA-dar" went off when the film cut to documentary footage included on the last big Selma march to Montgomery. It was an Asian guy. And it had to be Kuromiya. I swear on any bible Rudy Giuliani believes in. 

Kuromiya was an Asian American who made a difference. 

So that's it. No red carpet. No big show with Neil Patrick Harris hosting.

It's just a single Emil. One award. No plural needed for the best minimal presence of an Asian American in a major motion picture nominated for Best Picture.

One is enough. And it goes posthumously to Kuromiya, so he can't show up anyway. 

But if there were a living winner, while the Emil doesn't really exist physically, it is totally acceptable to mime stroking it admirably--in private. 

Speaking of awards, there are Oscars and there is the Emil. And then there are the 2015 Justice in Action Awards presented by AALDEF.

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Unlike the minimal presence at the Oscars, the winners this year are all highly visible and making a difference for Asian Americans every day in their respective fields: Jessica Hagedorn, novelist, poet, and playwright; Neal Katyal, partner at Hogan Lovells, Paul Saunders Professor at Georgetown University, and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States; and John W. Kuo, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of Varian Medical Systems.

Get your tickets here.

Hollywood is still a fantasy game played by actors. The fight for justice is no game. And no fantasy. It requires those who take action. That's the example set by the AALDEF Justice in Action Award's deserving winners each and every year.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views or policies of AALDEF.

1 comments

1. I think you need a new category.......asian characters played by caucasions.....and the worst performance in the history of cinema (not counting pre-WWII performances bordering on lunacy eg Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong) goes to.........Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin.
Posted by: Carl Sorrell | Feb 22, 2015 1:14 PM


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