China Abuzz Over Local Talent Invited to Join Academy

Chinese media were abuzz Thursday over the record number of Chinese filmmakers and actors who have been invited to become new members of the Academy, with some commentators saying that it could boost the country’s chances of winning an Oscar.

But others said that the Academy’s decision to include more Chinese and Asian faces was an effort to boost diversity rather than a bow by Hollywood to China, and that the new Chinese additions would have a negligible impact on Chinese films’ Oscar prospects.

Fourteen industry heavyweights from mainland China and Hong Kong are among the 774 new invited members. The news made headlines throughout Greater China.

“China raves over record number of Chinese filmmakers to join the Academy,” one headline declared.

The 10 invitees from Hong Kong are actresses Maggie Cheung (“In the Mood for Love”) and Carina Lau (“Days of Being Wild”); actors Tony Leung (“In the Mood for Love”) and Donnie Yen (“Ip Man”); directors Peter Ho-Sun Chan (“Dragon,” “Perhaps Love”), Ann Hui (“A Simple Life,” “Summer Snow”), and Johnnie To (“Election,” “Exiled”); producers Nansun Shi (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate,” “A Simple Life”) and Norman Wang; and writer-director-producer Yau Nai-hoi (“Three,” “Election”).

Four big names from mainland China made the list: actress-producer Fan Bingbing (“I Am Not Madame Bovary,” “Cell Phone”), who was a jury member at this year’s Cannes Film Festival; actor-director Jiang Wen (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Let the Bullets Fly”); writer-director Feng Xiaogang (“If You Are the One,” “A World without Thieves”); and cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding (“The Flowers of War,” “House of Flying Daggers”).

Other notable Asian names on the list include South Korean director Kim Ki-duk (“3-Iron,” “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring”), Japanese director Takashi Miike (“13 Assassins,” “Ichi the Killer”), and Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung (“Norwegian Wood,” “The Scent of Green Papaya”).

It wasn’t the first time that people from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan were invited to join the Academy. Previously, Hong Kong director John Woo, mainland director Jia Zhangke, actress Zhang Ziyi, and Taiwanese directors Ang Lee and Hau Hsiao-hsien were asked to join. But it was the first time to see a more substantial number of Chinese names on the list.

According to China web news portal xcnnews.com (link in Chinese), filmmaker and culture critic Gao Xiaosong blamed China’s repeated failure in the Oscars race on the low representation of Chinese filmmakers in the Academy, making it difficult to lobby members to vote for Chinese films. He said that raising the number of Chinese members would boost Chinese films’ chances.

But producer Peter Tsi said that the Academy’s decision was about increasing diversity rather than pleasing China. He said that those being invited to join reflected American perception of Chinese cinema as being completely commercial-oriented rather than artistic.

“A few people from China are not going to make any difference in Chinese films getting nominations,” Tsi said.

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