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Chinese films expected to shine at Oscars in future

By RENA LI in Los Angeles | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-03-07 07:09

Janet Yang (center) is presented with the Outstanding Asian American Women Who Dared Award by Yue-Sai Kan (right) on Feb 27 in Los Angeles. CHINA DAILY

The Chinese movie industry will have a greater influence on the Academy Awards in the future, said Janet Yang, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, renowned for its annual Oscars.

"I think it's just a matter of time when more Chinese films are recognized internationally and at the Oscars," Yang, who is fluent in Mandarin, told China Daily.

She stressed the need for Chinese movies to bridge cultural gaps and highlight talent to global audiences. She sees Chinese cinema continuing to gain recognition globally, with more breaking through at the Oscars, which will hold its 96th awards ceremony on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

"I have noticed that the quality of Chinese cinema has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. It's been very exciting and encouraging to witness," Yang said. "The most important thing is for these stories to connect with a global audience."

Yang, the 36th president of the academy, holds a significant place in Hollywood history. She is the first person of Asian descent, the second person of color, and the fourth woman to hold the influential position. Yang follows such Hollywood luminaries who held the post, such as Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Capra, Bette Davis, George Stevens, Gregory Peck, Robert Wise and Karl Malden.

Yang has been named one of the "50 most powerful women in the Hollywood" by The Hollywood Reporter.

Yang was born in New York City to Chinese immigrant parents. She ignited her passion for her Chinese heritage as a teenager. When Yang chose to work and live in Beijing after college in the 1980s, her eyes were open to a whole other universe of cultural creators. In particular, she "fell in love" with a group of movie-makers who were being nurtured at a movie studio in the remote area of Xi'an, Shaanxi province.

"Many of us can think of the exact moment that triggered the inspiration to work in film. For me, that moment came in Beijing watching Yellow Earth by the masterful Chen Kaige," Yang said.

"Growing up in America, I had barely seen any Asians on the big or little screen; if any made a fleeting appearance, it was inevitably a very demeaning role," Yang recalled in a conversation with Chinese movie director Chen.

Yellow Earth, a Chinese movie, inspired Yang to believe the Western world would appreciate such works. That belief led Yang to launch her career by founding the first distribution company to market Chinese movies in North America.

She also played a pivotal role in reintroducing US cinema to the Chinese marketplace on behalf of several studios, after a decadeslong hiatus. Notably, she collaborated with Steven Spielberg on his 1986 movie, Empire of the Sun.

Dedicated to promoting global understanding, Yang has served as a long-standing member of the Committee of 100, an organization of prominent Chinese Americans. She also holds advisory board positions at the Asia Society Southern California, where she chairs the US-Asia Entertainment Summit, and is a co-founder of Gold House, a nonprofit collective of influential Asian cultural leaders.

Last week, Yang, along with other remarkable women, was honored at the Outstanding Asian American Women Who Dared Award, which is chaired by Yue-Sai Kan, another Chinese American who is an Emmy Award-winning television host, producer, entrepreneur, fashion icon, author and humanitarian.

Empowering Asian women

"Given the current climate of heightened anti-Asian sentiments, we must continue to illuminate such individuals to empower all Asian women to overcome challenges and continue to shine bright," Kan said at the awards event co-presented by the China Institute in America and her One World Foundation on Feb 27 in Los Angeles.

Yang said: "Our community is our superpower. I'm so fortunate to be able to bring our culture to a larger world."

Yang's achievements also lie in overseeing a more diverse academy. She shared her insights and aspirations for the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.

"We are truly excited about the upcoming Oscars," Yang said. "2023 was an extraordinary year for movies, and it boasted such a widely varied group of movies to boot — from huge blockbusters to very personal films, and everything in between. There was something for everyone."

Yang highlighted the diversity of this year's Oscars by celebrating cinematic excellence while fostering inclusivity. She emphasized the importance of international cinema, noting the presence of nominees from countries outside the US in various categories.

This year, among the 10 movies nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, three of them — Anatomy of a Fall, Past Lives and The Zone of Interest — are foreign language ones.

"I think these trends will become more the norm than the exception," Yang said. "It was only three years ago that director Bong Joon-ho said, 'Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.' We have definitely gotten over that barrier."

Yang has also championed the recognition of groundbreaking work through talent development programs, such as the Student Academy Awards, that connect students with industry professionals.

"We foster young talents and guide them toward fulfilling roles within the industry. This is our best way to foster a more inclusive and vibrant cinematic landscape," she said.



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