Emil Guillermo: Why we both love and hate the Oscars

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Most want to rush to see the movies that won an Oscar after the fact. But there is one film you definitely should see after Oscar night and it’s a nominated movie that didn’t win, “Past Lives.”

It didn’t win for best picture or for Celine Song’s original screenplay. But as one who was a film critic and attended the Oscars in my day, I would have to say “Past Lives” was definitely Oscar-worthy as the modern Asian “coming to America” story.

It’s not as harrowing as the news stories of Asians coming across the southern border today. It’s quieter but no less gripping.It’s a love story about leaving and unleaving, loving and unloving. It’s about what you gain and lose when you come to America.From Seoul to Manhattan, with the climax in the East Village.

The star is the wonderful Greta Lee, who grew up in Los Angeles, the 1.5 daughter of Korean immigrants. She plays Nora, who after years apart meets her childhood Korean sweetheart, but she is now married to a Jewish American man. That’s the heart of the movie that speaks to the Asian American experience in such a personal way.

It did not win an Oscar. It should have. It’s our story.

“Oppenheimer” was the big winner on Sunday night with seven Oscars, including best picture. I get it. But what really is a bigger bombshell for a young Asian anywhere to hear but, “We’re immigrating—to America.”

That’s why I watched the movie a third time, once in a movie theater, and then twice on Paramount+, before the Oscars. Just to make sure I wasn’t wrong.

I wasn’t.


That long ordeal called the Oscars came on a day Americans in lockstep forward lost an hour. The gods are so unkind.

Awards season is already such a journey from the Golden Globes to SAG, BAFTA, People’s Choice, etc., etc. But we watch the Oscars for sure because it’s the big one, the imperfect mirror of the imperfect mirror on the world, the movies. Not streaming, TV, or cable. The movies are where your audience mates—perfect strangers--are noisily eating and texting away.

But all is forgiven when we sit in the dark and see an Asian face, someone like ourselves up on that screen. It allows us to live with the fantasy that all is right with the world–enough that we can keep going with the hope we will someday see an even more perfect mirror reflective of all of us.

It's the hope for an inclusive America. At least, that’s why I watch.

And this time, I must confess despite my disappointment with “Past Lives” losing, it was a pretty good show.

After last year’s “Everything Everywhere All At Once” win, Asian and Asian American stars seemed everywhere. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan were presenters. For as long as they live, they will be movie celebs, American royalty. (At least until Ali Wong and Steven Yeun break out of the TV realm and are seen for what they are–bona fide Hollywood talent.) Add to that Janet Yang, the Academy president, and the show is a far cry from just eight years ago in 2016, when the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was the rage. That year, I wrote about the Asian kids brought out as props in the role of the accountants who certify the Oscar votes.

But after last year, the 96th Oscars felt like diversity was taken for granted, so much so that the Oscars may have reverted to hashtag “Oscars So White again.” Oppenheimer wins all the major awards and “Past Lives” gets nothing? At least, “American Fiction,” whose Jeffrey Wright was passed over for Best Actor, won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Writer/Director Cord Jefferson’s speech put Hollywood in perspective.

“I understand that this is a risk-averse industry,” Jefferson said, indicating how Hollywood wants to back the sure thing. “But $200 million movies are also a risk. And it doesn’t always work out. . .Instead of making one $200 million movie, try making 20 $10 million movies. Or 50 $4 million movies.”

Damn, I’d make one for $200,000.

But Jefferson’s plea, as a rookie African American director, was his way to show there are still so many folks out there who have been shut out and “want the opportunity I was given.”

I know it seems like a lifelong struggle, but the push for diversity is only beginning.

Perhaps that’s why it was a surprise that Lily Gladstone, who had made history as the first Native American to win best actress at the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, lost to Emma Stone.

Everyone expected Gladstone to win. Having Osage tribal singers doing “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)”, I guess would have to be enough.

Has diversity fatigue set in already?


The show at more than three hours was a long one, but from the very first awards, it was clear, diversity matters still.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s speech for best supporting actress was a reminder of people too often overlooked. “I always wanted to be different,” Randolph said from the stage. “Now I realize I just need to be myself.”

Randolph wore a sequined baby blue gown and was hard to miss. But she knew how hard the business is for people of color. “I thank you for seeing me,” she said.

As I write, the ratings aren’t out yet for the show. But in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the viewership would reach 40 million, with more than 50 million in 1983 when “Gandhi” won Best Picture.

In recent years, the audience has shrunk to less than half the size during its halcyon days.

Still, it’s a great platform to send a message.

And so from the podium, there was a pro-ceasefire message and one pro-Ukraine message, reminders to us that there is a real world out there.

There also was a reminder of the strike that crippled the industry, and how when the crafts unions like IATSE and the Teamsters go into negotiations, it will be even tougher than those with the writers and actors.

But the political message that won the night for me was when host Jimmy Kimmel came out to read a review of his performance from social media.

Kimmel has become the host of our times. I'm surprised he got some criticism on social media. I thought Kimmel deftly straddled the lines of awards hosting that demand being both obsequious and obnoxious, nice and naughty, bland and stimulating all at the same time.

Kimmel came out and read a social media post from a viewer: “Has there EVER been a WORSE HOST than Jimmy Kimmel at the Oscars. His opening was that of a less than average person trying too hard to be something which he is not, and never can be.”

It was posted by former President Donald Trump on his Truth Social account, and he added that ABC should replace Kimmel with “George Sloponapoulos,” Trump’s reference to ABC news anchor George Stephanopoulos. “He would make everybody on stage look bigger, stronger and more glamorous,” said Trump, who also said the show was “disjointed, boring and very unfair. Why don’t they just give the Oscars to those that deserve them.”

Kimmel thanked the former president for watching and said, “I’m surprised, isn’t it past your jail time?”

It was the touch of reality that got a huge laugh from the audience. Perhaps not as big a response as Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” dance number, where Simu Liu represented. But it was worth exposing the GOP’s presumptive nominee for making the Oscars about him. “He’s [Trump’s] focused on the important stuff, for sure,” said Kimmel.

And I was surprised, he was told not to read the Trump post. But he did. Way to go, Jimmy.

For me, it was a message moment for the show.

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NOTE: I just finished a run of my one-man theater show at the Rogue Festival in California. I am coming to New York for the New York City Fringe, where I will donate a portion of ticket sales to AALDEF in honor of its 50 years of activism.

“Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host, Wiley Filipino, Vegan Transdad will be at Under St Marks Theater for just five shows in April.

Get tickets here:

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on