INTO THE NEXT STAGE: 2017 Oscars Succeed at Showing Improvement

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By GEORGE TOSHIO JOHNSTON

The 89th Academy Awards Show is now in the history books and more than anything else it will be remembered for the incorrect climactic announcement that “La La Land” — not “Moonlight” — had won the best picture prize.

Meantime, for observers concerned about inclusion and diversity in motion pictures, as well as followers of the #OscarsSoWhite social media (Twitter) thread that arose after the all-Caucasian acting and supporting acting nominees from 2016 and 2015, this most recent Oscar show proved to be better in nearly all aspects. Whether it was a heart-tugging acceptance speech, a nearly disastrous performance, digs at the political powers that be, self-deprecating humor or a chaotic finale, there really was something for everyone.

Reviewing the DVR’d rendition of the show, I have to say host Jimmy Kimmel, for example, proved to be affable and funny, able to use his wit as a razor without the unrepentant and clueless ignorance displayed by last year’s host Chris Rock — and I say that as a longtime fan of the comedian and someone ambivalent about Kimmel.

African Americans scored statuettes in acting, with the supporting actor and supporting actress Oscars going to, respectively, Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis (“Fences”). In other categories, the adapted screenplay prize went to Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”); Jenkins scored again for best picture (along with co-producers Jeremy Kleiner and Adele Romanski).

The show’s highest-profile Latino American, LinManuel Miranda, however, missed his chance at EGOT-dom (someone who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) for writing “How Far I’ll Go” for “Moana” — but you can bet on it happening someday for the Puerto Rican American man behind “Hamilton.” (Not only that, he’s already won a Pulitzer and a MacArthur genius grant, so one can’t feel too bad for him.)

Impressive for her poise, talent and appeal was Hawaii’s very young (16) Auli’i Cravalho. (If we can believe Wikipedia, she is of Chinese, Irish, Native Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican heritage.) While singing “How Far I’ll Go,” she was nearly bonked upside her head by a flag-waving background dancer, but continued, unperturbed. (And, she was introduced by “Moana” co-star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is himself of Samoan and African American heritage.) News reports say Cravalho has been cast to lead the pilot for “Drama High” on NBC. How far will she go, indeed.

Auli’i Cravalho was unfazed by a bonk on the head by a flag-waving background dancer during her Oscars performance of “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana.” (ABC)

It was also good to see Korean American John Cho with actress Leslie Mann co-present the previously awarded sci-tech Oscar; Pakistani Briton Riz Ahmed and South Asian Briton Dev Patel also got screen time as presenters.

Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, meantime, got some screen time for actually winning an Oscar back in November at the Governors Awards. While it was of the honorary variety for his more than five decades as a martial arts comedian who performed his own stunts in dozens of movies, it’s deserved. He’s committed to film some of the most eye-popping stunts ever performed and he’s paid for it with multiple broken bones and other injuries. In that regard, he has truly stepped out of the long shadow cast by Bruce Lee — but at such a great cost to his physical well-being.

Overall, the show did what it was supposed to do — celebrate and awards prizes to the year’s best movies and the people who make them. Glad that this year, in the bigger picture, it wasn’t strictly a celebration painted in black and white.

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Susan Hirasuna of KTTV chats with actor Tim Lounibos on Feb. 17 at an event sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association titled #OscarsNotSoWhite at the Los Angeles Times building.

Before Sunday night’s Oscars, I attended a couple of events that were related to the issues related to the issues of inclusivity, diversity and #OscarsSoWhite. One was sponsored by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the other by the Asian American Writers Committee of the Writers Guild of America West.

The AAJA event was held at the Los Angeles Times building on Friday, Feb.17. The WGA “town hall” event was a few days later on Wednesday, Feb. 22. I’m not 100% certain, but I think I was the only person to attend both events. I’ll probably have to elaborate on both events in future columns, but found it timely and fascinating that both of these groups had similar concerns.

The AAJA event, titled #OscarsNotSoWhite, featured as moderator KTTV news anchor and reporter Susan Hirasuna. Representing The Los Angeles Times with introductory remarks was editor-in-chief and publisher Davan Maharaj, along with with L.A Times A1 editor Ashley Dunn (also the 2017 LA-AAJA president). Before she left to attend to job-related duties at her TV station, Hirasuna chatted with The L.A. Times’ Tre’Vell Anderson; former L.A. Times and TheWrap.com staffer Lisa Fung; actors Tim Lounibos and James Kyson; and director Benson Lee. Anderson then took over the interviewing duties and spoke with content creator Stacy Ike and L.A. Times entertainment writer Jen Yamato.

The WGA event was interesting because it featured representatives from Nielsen, the company that does media metrics. Mariko Carpenter and Aya Mimura had some important and interesting data to share about the Asian American demographic and what it represents from a purely monetary, market-share perspective.

For instance, in terms of overall purchasing power, Asian Americans as a group have more clout than millennials (I believe the figure they gave was $825 billion vs. $225 billion) and that in the U.S., the fastest growing demo is Asian Americans, with China as No. 1 and India as No. 2 in immigrants to the U.S. Furthermore, 51% of children in the U.S. today are multicultural, a fact that isn’t new to the Japanese American community.

These data collected by Nielsen ultimately mean that progress is being made and will continue to be made with regard to inclusion and diversity for Asian Americans in the coming years, just via sheer numbers and disproportionate income and educational levels when compared with the dominant white American culture.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, people don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. This is probably already known among many; Nielsen is just putting hard data to these anecdotal observations.

Just speculation, but could this be part of the reason for news reports of some white Americans getting so riled up for the bombastic rhetoric of  President Trump and the writings of his adviser, Steve Bannon, perhaps out of a misguided fear of losing dominance as being the sole owner of the catbird seat in the American socio-economic system? If so, what ever happened to getting ahead via merit and hard work?

Anyway, like I said, I’ll have to address the details of these two events in future columns.

Correction Dept.: Last time out, I wrote: “ … but you can count on one hand the Hollywood movies that made E.O. 9066 and its aftermath central to the story. “Farewell to Manzanar.” “Snow Falling on Cedars.” “Come See the Paradise.” “Allegiance.” (I still have one finger remaining, Hollywood. Guess which one?)”

Thinking about it after the fact, I should have left out “Allegiance.” It’s not quite up there as a stand-alone movie from a Hollywood studio since what was seen in theaters in a limited run was a recorded version of the stage play. It could, however, be replaced by MGM’s “Go for Broke!,” which was about the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team. The incarceration of mainland Japanese Americans isn’t central to the story; it’s referenced in dialogue only. But I still think it’s a better choice than “Allegiance,” until it is adapted into a feature film. And the joke still works.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2017 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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