19.1 C
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

I was called an ‘ugly Jap’: Why this Oscars moment matters in Australia

Everything Everywhere All At Once has cleaned up at the 95th Academy Awards and brought with it a new chapter for Asian representation on screen.
The film, which explores the meaning of life through a series of bizarre multiverses, won seven Oscars on Monday including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, , Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan) and Best Supporting Actress (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Malaysian-born Yeoh, 60, who plays Chinese immigrant and laundromat manager Evelyn Wang, is the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress gong and only the second woman of colour after Halle Berry in 2002.

And the moment meant the world to Australian-based independent filmmaker Joy Hopwood,

Hopwood still vividly remembers her first experience with racism after arriving in Perth from Singapore in the seventies.
“On my first day of school, I wanted to feel that I belonged,” Joy told SBS News.
She said her hopes were quickly shattered by an incident on a basketball court.
“I ran and threw the ball back to the [other] players and they said, ‘Get your hands off our ball you ugly Jap.’ And I said, ‘I’m not Japanese.'”

The experience “traumatised” her and she stayed home for the next two weeks.

Joy Hopwood (top left) moved from Singapore to Australia as a child. Source: Supplied / Joy Hopwood

More than three decades on, Hopwood says while Everything Everywhere All At Once portrays a Chinese-American family, its success has a broader, global impact for anyone who identifies as Asian and it’s a sign that things are changing.

“I’m so proud … It has helped all of us champion each other and our community,” she said.

“I think the more we see Asians represented in television and film and in theatre, the more people feel that Asians are part of the community.”

A woman looking at the camera

Joy Hopwood now works as an independent filmmaker in Sydney. Source: Supplied / Joy Hopwood

Hopwood said she wasn’t sure how her first film, The Script of Life (2019), would be received as Asian actors made up around half of the cast, but after winning the Best Romance award at the Amsterdam International Film Festival she went on to make one of the first Asian-Australian rom-coms, Rhapsody of Love (2021).

“Growing up, there were very few films that I felt I could identify with,” she said.

“In the past, only Jackie Chan’s films were shown … and then I saw one journalist, Alison Fan, who was in Perth. She was the only Asian face that I saw on screen.”

Challenges remain

Despite the success of Everything Everywhere All At Once, and her own achievements, there is still a way to go, Hopwood said.
“Michelle Yeoh … it’s taken her decades to get where she is, and I just feel that her success should have been a lot earlier.”

“It’s taken decades for this change to occur, even with politics and culture, the arts, we need representation in order for change to happen.”

Australian writer and broadcaster Benjamin Law, who was born to parents from Hong Kong and Malaysia, said the film’s awards season success means a lot to Asian Australians.

A man smiling at the camera

Benjamin Law is an Australian writer and broadcaster. Source: Supplied / Daniel Francisco Robles

“I think Everything Everywhere All At Once represents a new milestone … an Asian diasporic film, storming the Oscars,” he said.

Law also pointed to the Best Supporting Actor’s journey to success.

“When you think of Ke Huy Quan’s story… His whole story is one of Asian erasure from Hollywood,” he said.

Quan, 51, was born in what was then known as Saigon, in Vietnam, and moved to the US as a child refugee.
“He started out as a child star in Indiana Jones and The Goonies but couldn’t get acting work, until now, here he is, as a middle-aged man.
“The only reason he thought it might be possible is because he saw [2018 film] Crazy Rich Asians starring Michelle Yeoh and said to his agent, ‘Can I have a go at acting again?'” Law said.
Melbourne University associate professor in Korean studies, Dr Jay Song, said Yeoh’s Oscars win was a huge feat.
“Asian women, they have these double barriers; we have to fight against sexism, which is quite deeply embedded in Australian culture, but then another layer is the racism. So you have to break the glass ceiling and after that, the bamboo ceiling is waiting for you.”
Mainstream portrayals of Asian characters have also been “misrepresented” and “mischaracterised” in the past, Dr Song said, but it is changing.
“Often Korean pop culture is portrayed as very sort of, childish … for teenage girls, so it’s created a sort of ‘second class’ music industry.”

“Now you see K-pop, not just K-pop, but K-films and K-dramas and the way they’re winning Oscars and, you know, Squid Game is popular now, watched by much of the Australian population.”

Dr Song said while the image of Asian culture and people is shifting, “we don’t actually hear a lot about the success stories Asian Australians are making for Australian society”.
“If you look at the latest census, the proportion of Asian Australians are increasing,” she said.

Data from the 2021 Census shows the top five countries of birth in Australia in descending order are England, India, China, New Zealand and the Philippines.

A headshot of a woman

Jay Song is an associate professor in Korean Studies at Melbourne University. Source: Supplied / Jay Song

“They are also contributing a lot for the Australian economy or society, but when they’re represented in media they’re often portrayed as victims, helpless victims and very vulnerable populations.”

Dr Song says it’s important to portray Asian characters, “as autonomous able bodies and high performers in every sector of society”.

“Often the main agendas for Asian Australians focuses too much on racism or anti-racism campaigns, although there are many Asian Australians who actually overcome that sort of ‘bamboo ceiling’ and become an active member of society.”

Hopwood, who similarly said she was inspired by the success of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) says getting funding also remains a challenge.
Screen Australia’s Head of Content, Grainne Brunsdon, said, “we know there’s a long way to go to improve diversity in film and this is a global issue”.
“We’re committed to supporting authentic storytelling from, about, and featuring people from under-represented groups … Australian stories have the power to resonate with audiences here and around the world and we want to see more representation of our diverse communities.”
Would you like to share your story with SBS News? Email

Source link

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles