The 2023 Oscar nominations were a mixed bag in terms of diversity — with no Black actors nominated in the lead acting categories and women shut out for best director — but there was one particular milestone worth applauding. With nods for Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu (all for “Everything Everywhere All at Once”) and Hong Chau (“The Whale”), the number of Asian acting nominees reached the most recognized in a single year ever at four nominations.
This figure surpasses the lineup from 2004, which included Indian and Iranian actors Ben Kingsley and Shohreh Aghdashloo (both for “House of Sand and Fog”) and Japanese star Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai”).
“Everything Everywhere All At Once,” written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, was the top film with 11 nominations, many of which held historical significance. The Daniels are the fifth duo nominated for directing, with Kwan’s nominations for directing and original screenplay marking the 13th occurrence of Asian filmmakers recognized in each category. One of the rare times a filmmaker is nominated for a “hat trick” (picture, director and screenplay), Kwan is the third Asian person ever after Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”) and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), who both won Oscars for directing and best picture.
Until Tuesday, Merle Oberon was the sole Asian woman nominated in the lead actress category — holding that title since “The Dark Angel” (1935). Now, Yeoh joins the list, as the Malaysian veteran actor earned her first career nod for her performance as laundromat owner Evelyn. Worth noting, Oberon’s South Asian and Māori heritage wasn’t known until after she died in 1979. At 60, Yeoh is the second oldest Asian acting nominee, behind Yuh-Jung Youn, who was 73 when she was nominated and eventually won best supporting actress for “Minari” (2020).
Other Asian talent recognized this year includes director Domee Shi, whose “Turning Red” was among the five nominated animated movies. It marks the 10th consecutive year that an Asian filmmaker was nominated in the category, the longest run of Asian representation in any category. With a nomination for best adapted screenplay, “Living” scribe Kazuo Ishiguro is the first Asian person and the sixth Nobel Prize winner to be an Oscar nominee.
In the acting categories, of the 10 nominated for lead and supporting actress, five belong to women of color: Ana de Armas (“Blonde”), Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Chau (“The Whale”) and Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”).
It’s been 30 years since Bassett was nominated for playing Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (1993), and she’s returned as the first MCU actor nominated by the Academy for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Cuban star de Armas is only the fifth Latina nominated for best actress, a category that has yet to produce a winner in 95 years. She follows Fernanda Montenegro (“Central Station”), Salma Hayek (“Frida”), Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace”) and Yalitiza Aparicio (“Roma”).
Quan and Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”) represent men of color in the supporting actor race, both picking up their first nominations. Henry is the lone Black male actor recognized by the Academy, with actors of color completely shut out of the lead actor race and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”) as key snubs in lead actress.
Women may have come up short in best director, but there were important strides throughout the 23 categories. “Elvis” cinematographer Mandy Walker became the third woman recognized in the category after Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) and Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”). Catherine Martin, who is married to director Baz Luhrmann, is nominated for three statuettes and is the first to be nominated for best picture, production design and costumes.