My blog on the Oscars

Dear Friends on Weibo,

I know there is tremendous interest in the Oscars each year, and yet there is a lot of mystery or disinformation or false assumptions about exactly who organizes it, what the rules are, etc.

The Oscars, or Academy Awards, are organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It an “invitation only” organization and I have been a member since 2002.

We are in the height of Oscar season, and I thought I would simply blog about some of the events I have been attending related to the Oscars.

Some basic facts first: The Academy is comprised of close to 6,000 members from 17 different branches – eg. Directors, producers, actors, editors, writers, cinematographers, etc. To become a member, you need to have fulfilled certain stringent requirements as to number of films worked on, or nominated, etc., and you need several letters of recommendation from Academy members.

Last year, a few interesting facts surfaced widely and became controversial. 94% of the members are Caucasian, and 77% are male. This is not surprising given the history of the industry, but it makes me feel all the more privileged to be a member. There are very, very few Asian members, and I can think of only one person that is also Chinese-speaking – Lisa Lu, Lu Yan, the wonderful elderly actress whom I worked with on Joy Luck Club.

Every film that has an official release in the US of a minimum of a week can qualify to be an Oscar contender. Each member can nominate films in his/her own category. As a member of the producing branch, I get to nominate “best film” awards. How great is that!

Nominations are due towards the end of each year. After the all the nominations are tallied, the Academy publishes the top five in each category, except for “best film”, which as of the last several years, can be up to 10. This rule might change yet again.

After nominations in all 17 branches are publicized, then every Academy member gets to vote in every category!

Foreign films, which of course might have some special interest to my Chinese friends, are in a special category along with documentaries, animated movies, and shorts. A special committee decides on the nominations, but the films have to all be screened in person. I have been asked many times to be on the committee, but the number of films one has to see in a short period of time is huge, so I have never actually been able to nominate.

But I do get to vote for every nominated film in every category. And that makes me and every Academy member very popular to those who work on Oscar campaigns.

So at this time of year, I receive literally dozens and dozens of invitations to see a film, and then meet with the director and actors of that film, often over a lunch or at a reception. This provides rare access to some of this top talent. They are not surrounded by their handlers and are usually more open to chatting than usual.

In the last few weeks alone, I had the opportunity to see the following films, and then speak with the directors and actors involved:

– BRIDGE OF SPIES, directed Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks. (Special for me because the very first film I worked on was EMPIRE OF THE SUN, directed by Steven, partially in Shanghai!)

– THE REVENANT, directed by Alejandro Inaritu, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

FullSizeRender_FotorQ&A after screening (click to expand photo): Leonardo DiCaprio (First from left), Alejandro Inaritu (First from right)

– BLACK MASS, directed by Scott Cooper, starring Johnny Depp.


I’m shy about asking for selfies — shot from a distance.

– ROOM, directed by Lenny Abramson, starring Brie Larson.

Each one of these films, while extremely different, is truly phenomenal in its own way. They all boast amazing performances, and they all have an unforgettable cinematic quality. It will be a tough year.

That’s all I will say for now. Please let me know what aspects of the Academy and Academy Awards you would be interested to know more about! I will do my best to keep you informed. Happy watching!