Emil Guillermo: On Oscar’s “Bao,” Trump in Hanoi, and the stories of Michael Cohen

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You know Donald Trump is up late in Vietnam, not eating pho, but watching Fox to see how he’s playing back home, not to mention how Michael Cohen’s doing.

Cohen? You know he’s about to perform under oath before the House Intelligence Committee in full public view. How high the stakes? Ask Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has stooped to what Gaetz himself called “witness testing,” not “tampering,” when he tweeted Tuesday night. “Hey @MichaelCohen212, Do your wife and father-in-law known about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

This is what the Trump-style has brought to our democracy. It’s all about mafia-style bullying, intimidation, and threats.

And the Don is in Hanoi watching it all. Distraction? Slight.

Already Trump’s got to feel the leaked opening remarks from DC to Hanoi like a spoonful of Sriracha sauce straight to the eyes. Cohen’s statement is direct: “He’s a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat,” in reference to Trump. “He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.”

With all that spewing from DC, it may make Trump realize his best way out of all this may be to go warm and fuzzy with his little Rocket Man.

Frankly, I don’t expect anything out of Trump/Kim 2. The first one was more of a bust than Trump wants to admit.

North Korea did not denuclearize. And it isn’t likely to give up its nuclear dreams this time around either.

If Trump wants to make news, he’ll have to play up his professed love for Kim in order to motivate the North Korean leader.

In other words, I want to see Trump and Kim sitting on a piano stool Gaga-Cooper style, side-by-side singing “Shallow.”

Otherwise, Hanoi is a failed photo-op.

As for Cohen, if he sings as promised before Congress, I’d expect Trump to be watching the news and counter-tweeting all night from Hanoi in real time.

Should make him a wreck for Kim. But will we know the difference?

Usually when the Oscars wrap up, I’m in line to see whatever won “Best Picture.”

But this year, I’m not running to see “Green Book.”

The first post-Oscar movie I saw was “Bao.”

I wanted to see a universal story told through an Asian American perspective.

And when I did, it was pretty fulfilling. (Google to find it online; it may cost you $1.99.)

But first, this was the year of diversity at the Oscars. And it was something.

I’ve been part of the protest over the Oscars for a long time, in my Asian Week columns starting in 1995, to the AALDEF blog, where this column migrated in 2010.

I’ve written about #OscarsSoWhite in 2016, when the show paraded Asian American children to joke about the Academy’s new accountants.

In 2014, I thought we’d turned a corner when host Ellen DeGeneres said that either “12 Years a Slave” wins or we’re all racists.

“12 Years Won” but so what? Oscar didn’t discount the racism taking place all around us in real time as a proposed nominee for Asst. Attorney General for Civil Rights, Debo Adegbile, was being smeared in the Senate for speaking out for the imprisoned and long-time cause celebre Mumia Abu Jamal.

In 2015, I joked about the best minimal presence by an Asian or Asian American in a movie.

Oscar has always been a favorite target of mine. That is, until this year, when everything seemed to go right for diversity.

Black winners. White winners. Latino winners. Asian winners. Hooray.

It almost made you forget “Crazy Rich Asians” was snubbed badly by the Academy, although the film’s female stars Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, and Awkwafina showed up as presenters.

But it was the animated short category that made my Oscar night.

The Oscar for “Bao” went to Domee Shi, who created the movie at Pixar with Becky Neiman.

It’s a movie about having a bao-by. (There I said it). It’s about the love of dumplings transformed into an ode to maternal love.

In her acceptance speech, Shi thanked the listed co-executive producer, Pete Doctor, but not the disgraced John Lasseter, who was entangled by sexual harassment claims and left Pixar earlier this year.

The positive diversity message, however, was aimed to all those who have a story to tell. Shi singled out people like her.

“To all the nerdy girls out there who hide behind your sketch book, don’t be afraid to tell your stories,” said Shi to applause. “You’re going to freak people out, but you’re going to connect to them too, and that’s an amazing feeling to have.”

That was the best Asian diversity moment for me in a night of diversity firsts.

That would include Spike Lee’s moment too. His speech was all about history 1619, when the first slaves were brought to Jamestown, did you know that? Add the Native Americans, and you can see how Asian Americans fit into the continuum of the common struggle of people of color, brought to America to be enslaved or marginalized as manual labor.

When people sought a replacement for blacks, they found Asians. The Chinese built the railroad. And then were excluded. The Filipinos were colonized and then brought in to work the fields. And then they were repatriated, replaced by Latinos.

Lee has been taken to task by Trump for being racist in that speech. But what does the president know about racism? There was nothing racist in that acceptance speech.

I was, however, taken aback when Lee reportedly wanted to leave the Oscars when “Green Book” won.

I understand the sentiment entirely. There was controversy prior to awards night about “Green Book” having been written from a white American perspective. “Green Book” refers to the book that provided blacks with information on where they could go in the south. And the movie’s been criticized because the family of the black musician Don Shirley was not contacted. It was a limited representation, as memoirs often are. Was it a misrepresentation of Shirley? It was one point of view.

Oscar voters had other options. They could have voted for Spike Lee’s “BlackkKlansman.” Or even “Black Panther,” not just a blockbuster hit, but equally as stunning a bit of moviemaking. Both would have been far worthier than the winner, and would have been a great cap to the night.

But the voters went with the safe choice, “Green Book.” A white perspective of an important black story.

Instead of anger, choose to stay hopeful of the promise of more to come.

Domee Shi told us we can tell our own stories in a big way. And they’re coming.

I felt it, and I think the Academy felt it for sure on Oscar night.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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