Lulu Wang‘s breakout hit, the autobiographical indie darling “The Farewell,” just might be her ticket to making Oscar history. The film makes a strong case for Wang being the first Asian woman nominated for Best Director and if she were to win, the second woman ever to do so. “The Farewell” is not the kind of movie Hollywood normally makes, but it is the kind of work that the Academy has been taking note of in recent years (e.g. “Roma,” “Moonlight” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”).
The Academy does not have the strongest track record of honoring minority talent (in front of or behind the camera), especially Asian talent. But there are a few strong arguments as to why this year could help change that. Firstly, most years, the Oscars reserve a slot for a small indie feature with no big name talent that earns critical acclaim and does well with audiences (i.e. 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and 2016’s “Moonlight”). The biggest name attached to “The Farewell” is Awkwafina, the rapper-turned-actress who has gained star recognition in the past few years with her standout roles in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Oceans 8.” The indie darling was also a Sundance Film Festival sensation nominated for the Grand Jury Prize this year. And on top of that, the film cracked the Top 10 at the box office during the summer, a time mainly reserved for major blockbusters.
Secondly, the film deals with the dichotomy of cultural expectations and individuality, a topic that is often in the Academy’s wheelhouse. A personal story based on her own family, “The Farewell” aptly deals with geographical, cultural and linguistic divides, but does so with a command of humor. The broader story is one that has been done before but this particular narrative is tackled with a unique emotional storyline and authenticity that is often lacking with other entries. Wang crafts a new, intimate story with a strong sense of command and style, akin to “Moonlight.”
Women and women of color especially, haven’t received their fair share of recognition in the industry but honoring Wang and here film could be a huge step in the right direction. Representation has been a popular trend in the industry and with the Awards narratives in the last few years, which undoubtedly works in Wang’s favor. Overall, this beautiful, heartbreaking story is handled with a perfect mix of drama and levity and great performances directed by Wang, which has put it on the path of making long-overdue history at the 92nd Oscars.