Tag Archives: Racism

Western accolades – why do you fear awarding Asians?

Commentary: There's nothing 'foreign' about Minari - The Aquinian

The 2021 Golden Globe Awards took place just a few days ago and it was truly a reflection of the times. Celebrities, unable to walk the red carpet due to COVID, hired photographers and other staff to have photoshoots at home. They gussied up as best they could while sitting on their sofas waiting for announcements. The Golden Globe Awards is known for celebrating both American and international films and television, which made the online audience accessible for those around the world. While stars and others alike celebrated their wins and nominations, the Golden Globes had a controversy that had been bubbling under the radar.

When film Minari was nominated for Foreign Language Film, it stirred conversation online – both positive and mainly negative. Minari follows the story of a Korean family immigrating to Arkansas and details the experience of adjusting to the American life in the 1980s. The family converses in both Korean and English, with Korean-American actors Steven Yeun and Alan Kim as well as Korean actors like Yeri Han and Yuh-Jung Youn. Due to the usage of the Korean language in the film, the Golden Globes stated that Minari was not eligible for other nominations because it was being counted as foreign film – despite being filmed in America, having an American director, and featuring Asian American actors.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Associate (HFPA) rules that a film must be 50% in English to be eligible for main awards. This isn’t surprising as critically acclaimed films like The Farewell and Parasite have also been ineligible for awards due to the movie being mainly in an Asian language. The problem comes from the inconsistency of said rule.

“In the foreign language category, the HFPA’s strict 50-50 language rule has fluctuated in the past, allowing films such as “Babel” and “Inglourious Basterds” — both of which coincidentally starred Brad Pitt — to be nominated for best picture, drama, with “Babel” winning the prize.” (Jen Yamato, Los Angeles Times)

Inglourious Basterds is only about 30% in English, with the rest of the dialogue in German, French, and Italian.  So what circumstances allow the 50-50 language rule to be bent? Apparently no one knows, but an investigation on the HFPA about the lapse in their ethics and lack of diversity on their 87 member board might clue you in. The 50-50 rule is even stranger when you consider that the United States does not have an official language – English just happens to be most commonly used.

Minari, a film about another aspect of the American experience in America with Asian-American actors and an Asian-American director – is considered foreign simply for having a language other than English. The Farewell, a film about another aspect of the American experience in America with Asian-American actors and an Asian-American director – is also considered foreign simply for having a language other than English. Inglourious Basterds, a film about an alternate history of Nazi Germany with American and European actors and an American director – is not considered foreign despite not being based in America and having several languages other than English.

What is the difference then?

If anything, it has more to do with the western misconception that “American” equals cishet white people. It doesn’t have anything to do with the language – Asian people just aren’t considered for western success.

Rina Sawayama: "Us pop girls are really trying to lift 2020 in the only way  we can!" | Features | DIY
Rina Sawayama

This isn’t anything new with western accolades. British pop star Rina Sawayama was not considered “British enough” to be eligible for the Brit Awards and The Mercury Prize despite living in the United Kingdom for 25 years and having a right to work in the UK and permanent residency. Part of the entry process is to provide proof of citizenship and because Sawayama has retained her Japanese citizenship, she was not eligible.  But in 2005 Antony and the Johnsons, a New-York based group and resident of the United States, was eligible because they owned a British passport. Many have called out the gate-keeping nature of the Brit Awards as problematic, even describing it as “border control.”

Just this year, the Brit Awards changed their eligibility guidelines thanks to the outpour of support for Sawayama, with twitter trending #SawayamaIsBritish in the UK. The new rule states that artist who have been a UK resident for more than 5 years qualify.

Even if Asian people from Asia succeed in the west, western accolades continue to shut them out. The Grammy 2021 nominations confused many when South Korean band, BTS, was only nominated for one award even with their dominance on the American music charts rivaling the likes of Doja Cat and Lady Gaga. Expert predictions assumed that the band would at least be nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album but when the nominee list came out, many claimed that BTS were snubbed. Acts like Justin Bieber, Harry Styles and Dua Lipa were nominated despite BTS’ submitted album, Map of the Soul:7, outselling the nominees. Taylor Swift and BTS were the only artists in all of 2020 to sell half a million copies of an album in the United States, yet only Taylor Swift’s album Folklore was nominated.

While some take comfort in the fact that BTS at least have one nomination, it can’t be ignored that BTS were shut out of last year’s Grammy awards as well despite having one of the most successful tours of 2019 and only received a nomination once they sang a song in English.

JUNGKOOK BTS on Instagram: “bts with taylor swift ✌🏻” | Billboard music  awards, Taylor swift, Bts boys
Korean band BTS with Taylor Swift at the Billboard Music Awards

The language barrier appears to exist as an excuse for western award organizations to ignore and discredit work based on the need to other Asians. Board members for awards need to not only be diverse in their background, but cultural understanding as well. By diversifying the members, they would be able to see that the American experience is varied in its makeup. Americans love to brag about America being a melting pot of cultures – then why not celebrate the different languages and cultures that make it so? By limiting what media is worthy of celebration, it closes the door on sharing the various perspectives that art, film, and music have to offer.

“The Dark Side of K-pop” narrative is rooted in xenophobia

Blackpink from YG Entertainment

As an Asian-American, Korean popular music which is widely known as K-pop, was never unknown to me. Like any other form of music, K-pop was always there – so the recent surge of coverage in American media is somewhat odd. It’s as if America is a late bloomer to anything outside of America and now we’re watching the west try to play catch up with the K-pop wave, which has already made its home around the rest of the world. K-pop blew up in the late ‘90s and early 2000s and has become better known in recent years for its flashy choreography, vibrant colors, and meticulously put together groups.

And every few months, an examination of K-pop’s “dark side” appears.


And again.

The K-pop industry is notorious for its treatment of its stars, referred to as idols. Idols are celebrities who have undergone extensive training (dance, vocal, media, etc.) and are produced by a company. This isn’t actually restricted to just Korea as China and Japan also have idols, but a lot of the whispers about the K-pop industry are more popularized. Rigorous years of training, strict dating rules, lack of autonomy – the infamous “factory manufactured idol” is common knowledge. The discussion that “idols are like robots” is had every time a K-pop act blows up and it’s unavoidable, especially considering how prevalent it is in the industry. Scandals from prostitution to abuse fill the crevices of the industry.

But the strangest thing to me, is why there is such a fixation on the salaciousness of the K-pop industry.

Now don’t get me wrong – that’s not to defend the industry. As a matter of fact, I actually don’t even really like K-pop. In the same way I can name maybe Shania Twain as the only country singer I ever listened to actively, I can name maybe two K-pop groups I listen to regularly. But there’s something uncomfortable about the American media pushing that K-pop idols are nothing more than puppets and robots and then Hollywood shoe horning Asians into roles where they are unfeeling robotic entities who have no autonomy in their lives.

The stereotype of Asians being docile isn’t anything new as Asian women are often touted as submissive and obedient in media and Asian men are often shown as undesirable because they’re not as “masculine” as other races. So it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Americans are looking at K-pop idols as something with no autonomy or voice.

Therein lies an inherent problem with American reporting on the K-pop industry and it’s the tendency to other Asians based on racist stereotypes. Because of these caricatures of Asians, American media is having a difficult time acknowledging the boom of the K-pop industry and is incapable of separating K-pop from the racist lens they have of Asians. They can’t help but look for negatives because that is what supports their preferred narrative.

Often people look at the K-pop industry scandals and comment “wow how can Koreans let that happen!” and “I don’t understand that culture”. The most popular arguments fall under the notion that the same scandals just don’t happen in the American music industry.

I’m here to tell you that it does – you’re just not paying attention because it’s American.

The recent Britney Spears documentary, Framing Britney Spears, has sparked a conversation online about the safety of American musicians. People are flooding to Spears’ support (and rightfully so), but the most commonly asked question is “how could anyone let this happen?” Unfortunately, Spears’ struggle against her family for independence isn’t private knowledge. It’s been public knowledge since 2008, when her father received control over her financial assets. For over 10 years Spears’ situation has been reported time and time again, but only now is it finally being acknowledged. It isn’t rare for injustices in the American music industry to be glossed over.

Michael Jackson, a legendary music icon, will forever be associated with Leaving Neverland, a documentary following the stories of the survivors of his sexual abuse toward minors. But that doesn’t stop anyone from playing his music at family events or his media presence even after death. Surviving R.Kelly is a documentary that details the decades of sexual abuse R.Kelly got away with in the music industry – and he did it all in plain sight. R.Kelly’s infamous sex tape depicted him engaging in sexual acts with a minor and instead of reprimanding him for it, it was turned into a part of culture. From Dave Chapelle’s skits to homages in other songs, R.Kelly’s sexual abuse was well-known, especially among those in the music industry. And in the year of 2021, he still hasn’t answered for his crimes.

Pop singer Ke$ha suffered emotional abuse and gender discrimination at the hands of her music producer, Dr. Luke and still hasn’t won her lawsuits. Dr. Luke continues to make music for acts like Doja Cat, Kim Petras, and more.

One Direction, formed by Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell, known for acts like One Direction and Fifth Harmony, has a reputation of taking away the creative freedom (overall freedom really) from his artists and setting up “slave contracts”. A contract leak showed that One Direction were not allowed to speak poorly of him, and two members suffered from anxiety while in the group. A recording from a member of Fifth Harmony was leaked where one of the members states “They are making decisions on a regular basis to fuck us over, to make us literal slaves, like literally slaves” while being comforted by another member. None of this seems to impact Cowell’s career as he continues to land gigs as a judge on music shows and creating new bands.

The list goes on from P. Diddy’s alleged slave contracts to Megan Thee Stallion suing her record label in order to release new music.

So why don’t Americans spotlight these issues in the same way? In the same way that Koreans might say “well that’s how it is in the industry”, Americans turn a blind eye to the injustices in the American music industry as well. It is a well known fact that the American music industry is predatory, but it is chalked up to a “dog eat dog world” – if you want success you have to suffer for it. If American musicians are being controlled and media manufactured, it is because that’s the price they must pay for fame.

But it’s much easier to be critical of something in another country than it is to be critical of something in your own country. It’s easier to look at another country and say “that’s wrong and something should change” because you’re not expected to act with that knowledge. When looking at your own country and saying “that’s wrong something and should change” that responsibility falls on the people in that country. By writing narratives about docile Asians who must be controlled and pairing that with the rise of the K-pop industry, while also ignoring that the same plights are had in the American music industry, it becomes xenophobic.

While there’s nothing wrong with exploring the negative intricacies of the K-pop industry, it is xenophobic when the lens is directed at it only because it is an “other”.  I wish American media would focus less on the problems in another country’s music industry and more on the problems in our own music industry, but that also asks for American reporters to step back and reexamine their biases. That will probably take another ten years or so. In reality all I can ask is that anyone reading this understands that when being critical of another country, first think about whether or not you are critical of the same thing in your country. If you struggle with this thought, then that should give you the answer.

A Surprise Witness for Minnesota

To Each His Owned

Are you into surveys…social scientist-done studies…” opinion pieces” where all is presented with third-person, psychic-with-no-psychic-powers-generalities like this: (from “Minnesota Nice and Racism”-Twin Cities daily Planet)

Minnesota Blog pic    Well, this may be for you if you like arguing with the screen or printed page.

In my years living Minnesota I held the same jobs, lived in the same, demographically diverse neighborhoods as I lived in during the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic and Southern region-living portions of my life.

I redefine the truths evident in the sources/URLs below from the perspective that utilizes the blunt truth style of the Northeast and Deep South:

  • In the piece below about Minnesota Nice being a veil for racism, I would counter that having grown up in places where the racism is just as evident in the attitudes of the white majority, Minnesota is the first place that I didn’t hear about it. Many years here…never been called any racial slur by anyone in or out of uniform. Not even walking into a bar filled with about 50-70 bikers…my order was taken, I was brought my meal, I paid then left. Even the bikers by the door who easily could have folded me up and put me in their shirt pocket, just kept looking where I was not until I walked out the door.

Maybe they hated me, maybe they had no words for an outsider/outgroup member, maybe they didn’t care…whatever the thoughts/feelings/opinions behind their silence and aversion-to-eye-contact-freeze-frame, I left completely unobstructed while not not hearing it.

  • As for the picture of a white man in a police officer’s face, I counter that anyone, even the elderly and disabled, would be stupid to walk up on a man or woman in uniform. True, I am of mixed ethnicity, but even relatives I meet for the first time think I am African-American until I speak native (never asked why), but I never had a problem approaching a police officer (within arms-reach)—whether in Hattiesburg or Hastings—because I kept my empty hands visible, (fingers unfolded) with my cell-phone (and anything else that could be reimagined to be a gun in my pocket and unseen.

This is not a statistical, many-times removed analysis asking you to rely on what someone you don’t know says about this State, just an exercise that acknowledges in conclusion that every pose, policy, position or picture of the sources below would never be just as true copy-and-pasting any State other than Minnesota in any or all.

  • In Minnesota, reducing it to a minimalist’s math, my struggle is with the Legislature’s words and actions (only 33% of a State trifecta of People, Police and Policy); while in eight other States I have lived or worked in for at least one year, the struggle is outwardly manifested in the words and actions of all three (100%).