What does Youn Yuh Jung's historic win at the Oscars mean for Asian representation?

3 months ago  |  160.5K
What does Youn Yuh Jung's historic win at the Oscars mean for Asian representation?

One might think that the answer to this question lies in the statement itself. What does Youn Yuh Jung's historic win at the Oscars mean for Asian representation? The answer is well it means something great, isn't it? Yes, but the answer to this question is as nuanced and complex as the film is itself. Minari means Water Celery in Korean, is a lovely film about a South Korean nuclear family who settles in rural America during the 1980s to chase 'The Great American Dream'. Directed by Lee Issac Chung, the film is semi-autobiographical in nature, with Mr Lee referencing crucial chapters and moments from his life in the film. 

Korean-American actor Steven Yeun headlines the film in the titular role of Jacob Yi, the cantankerous patriarch of the house. Han Ye Ri plays Monica Yi, his wife, who is troubled and reluctant with her husband's over-ambitious dreams. Child actors Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho play the wide-eyed kids David Yi and Anne Yi, who are excited to embrace their new American life. Actress Youn Yuh Jung plays Soonja, Monica Yi's mother who comes to live with the couple's family, helping them settle in their new American life. "You aren't like other grandmothers!", David Kim complains and right he is. Soonja is one of those 'cool and badass' grandmothers. She teaches the kids fun games to play, can't bake cookies for her grandchildren and takes David to plant Minari seeds by the creek.

With my little understanding, Minari is a resilient and useful plant that can produce aplenty and grow in the most adverse and harsh conditions. The film is cleverly titled Minari because as immigrants, survival and resilience are of utmost importance, something the 'cool' grandma Soonja teaches the kids and indirectly the parents too. David begins enjoying his physical activities and eventually develops a close bond with Soonja. Jacob and Monica Yi learn that family is more important than anything else, and like Minari, they too shall overcome their adversities. 

However, it wouldn't be too wrong to say that Minari can also be equated to Korean and Asian representation in Hollywood and western media. Like the strong and resilient Minari plant, actors of colour have learnt to grow and thrive in adverse and unaccepting conditions of Hollywood. Actors of colour had to fight for representation and space, pitted directly against their western counterparts and rising against all odds. Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed became the first Asian nominees in the Best Actor category, taking one bold step forward in representation. 

Minari winning isn't just Youn Yuh Jung or the film's victory, it is a win for Asian representation. It is a win for people of colour, for women, for older actresses way past their prime years and a win for quality cinema. It is a win for originality, for everyone who is trying to make space for themselves under this scorching sun, just like the Yi family in Minari. It is not just a win for Korea, it is a win for every young child, irrespective of their background, who carries 'The Big American Dream' in their eyes. 

Like Minari, the creators of the film live in a perpetual dilemma - are we Koreans or Americans, or leaning more towards either side. Minari isn't a speciality, it is versatility - it marches to its own drum! Just like Youn Yuh Jung - perhaps the secret wasn't the adaptability and flexibility of the resource herb, the secret lied in the one who nurtured it. Soonja nurtured Minari, while Youn Yuh Jung also nurtured Minari. Youn Yuh Jung is Minari - strong, resilient, adaptable, versatile and perfect!

ALSO READ: 5 hilarious moments from Oscar Winner Youn Yuh Jung's winning speech

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