There's nothing that makes me happier than a personal hero getting honored. Jackie Chan won an honorary Oscar at the Governor's Ball two weeks ago. The award was presented by his Rush Hour co-star Chris Tucker. If you haven't had a chance to see Jackie Chan's speech in full, you totally should!
Jackie Chan's win is really important in the film industry - both independent and corporate. Besides the notable name, there are three things that we have to acknowledge and hopefully more people will encourage this material in their movies, TV shows, and other media.
1. It'll open doors for more Asian and Asian-American leading roles.
We already have a dramatic shortage of lead roles for Asian-Americans and the few leads we have had to break the glass ceiling through self-reinvention, playing stereotypes, or limited exposure through ethno-cultural economics and niche markets. Jackie Chan, while not Asian-American, has helped open doors for many newcomers: whether it's back in China or here in US. He's played a range of characters from a super-cop saving his family and the city from peril, to a race car driver, to an archaeologist, to a drunk pawn shop owner who's the reincarnate of an immortal being. (I know the last one's a stretch but it happened. And it's actually good!)
2. It brings respect to an impressive genre - martial arts.
If you've read any quote from Jet Li or Bruce & Brandon Lee, one of the biggest meritocracies in the film industry is being able to handle an action scene. Chinese and Hong Kong cinema has the most challenging scenes to shoot due to the incredibly fast pacing, the actual actors's lives are on the line (see Donnie Yen & Mike Tyson or Cynthia Rothrock), and these scenes often have to be done in one shot. While Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, media making nods to tropes in the genre, and the icons listed here have brought prominence, we have yet to see respect to a person in the front lines let alone a living one still active in the industry.
3. He did this as himself.
Nodding back to number 1, Asian and Asian-American characters have a glass ceiling to break through and that has also boiled down to acting chops. (in case the GITS scandal was not enough to pull your hair out. Still think Rinko Kikuchi could've pulled Motoko Kusanagi off well.) Jackie Chan's win shows that you can do something deeply immersed in your personal and national history and be yourself while doing it. With the many diversity movements that require much needed support, actors like Jackie Chan, Aziz Ansari, Donnie Yen, Lilly Singh, and many others demonstrate that persistence and dedication can take you far.
An Honorary Oscar should not be looked at any less than the award show we see every year. Whether a performer is young like Lupita Nyong'o (or Anna Paquin or Tatum O'Neal) or old like Emmanuelle Riva (or Clint Eastwood or Dame Judi Dench - movie nerd's going back to bed now) or you hit somewhere in the middle, your contribution is very important to the cultural landscape. Behind the scenes or on the front lines, your voice is valuable especially in the media spectrum.
Congratulations Jackie Chan. You totally deserve this.
Peeps, don't be afraid to join the Academy, the Hall of Fame, or whatever arts committee you're passionate about. The voices of the future are ours. Let's make it a good one.
<3 DJ MK