The following is a combination of press releases from ABC:
Oscar® nominee Steven Yeun will join the ensemble cast slated to present at the 93rd Oscars®, show producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh announced today. “The Oscars” will air live on Sunday, April 25, 2021, on ABC.
“Surprise! We’re so excited to welcome Steven to the crew, and he completes our Oscars cast. No, really, this is it,” said Collins, Sher and Soderbergh.
The previously announced lineup includes Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.
Celeste, H.E.R., Leslie Odom Jr., Laura Pausini, Daniel Pemberton, Molly Sandén and Diane Warren will perform the five nominated original songs in their entirety for “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” the lead-in to the 93rd Oscars. One performance will be recorded in Húsavík, Iceland, and four at the Dolby Family Terrace of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Hosted by actors Ariana DeBose (“Hamilton”) and Lil Rel Howery (“Bad Trip”), the 90-minute “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will highlight the nominees’ journey to Hollywood’s biggest night, give fans around the world the ultimate insiders’ sneak peek to the party and, for the first time, bring Oscar music to the festivities. The show will feature a special appearance by DJ Tara. “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air Oscar Sunday, April 25, at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT.
The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and international locations via satellite. “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air live on ABC at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT. “The Oscars” will be televised live on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT and in more than 200 territories worldwide. “Oscars: After Dark” will immediately follow the Oscars show.
ABOUT THE ACADEMY The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 10,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1980s, in an unnamed part of rural Arkansas, the drama “Minari’ features a cast of Asians and white people portraying the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A Korean American family moves from California to Alabama, so the patriarch can start a farm, but the family experiences culture shock and unexpected hardships.
Culture Audience: “Minari” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted dramas about family struggles and the American Dream.
The standout drama “Minari” makes an emotional impact in moments of quiet desperation and anxiety during a family’s quest to achieve the American Dream. It’s not a movie packed with fast-paced action, nor does it fall into predictable clichés of how immigrant families in America are often portrayed on screen. It’s an intimate “slice of life” portrait of a pivotal time in a Korean American family’s history, with impressive performances from the movie’s cast.
Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, “Minari” won the 2020 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Award in the U.S. dramatic category (the festival’s top prize) and the Audience Award in the same category. And it’s an arthouse film that’s also a crowd-pleaser. There isn’t a false note in the entire movie, although the deliberate pacing of “Minari” might not be to everyone’s taste, especially if a viewer is expecting more melodramatic antics in this story.
Set in the 1980s, “Minari” centers on the Yee family, who have recently moved from California to rural Arkansas. Jacob (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (played by Yeri Han) are in their 30s and have opposite feelings from each other about this relocation. Jacob is excited and optimistic about this new chapter in the family’s life, while Monica is skeptical and worried. When they drive up to their new home, which is a trailer, Monica expresses her disappointment to Jacob: “This isn’t what you promised.”
Jacob and Monica’s children are daughter Anne (played by Noel Cho) and son David (played by Alan S. Kim), who are aware that their mother isn’t thrilled about moving to rural Arkansas, where the family doesn’t know anyone. But the children have no choice but to go along and see what happens. Anne, who is about 11 or 12 years old, is an obedient and unfussy child. David is 7 years old, very precocious, and a little bit rebellious. David also has a heart murmur, so he’s often reminded by his parents that he can’t run or do any physical activity that could over-exert his heart.
It’s mentioned in the movie that Jacob and Monica are Korean immigrants who moved to the United States after they became a couple, while Anne and David were born in the U.S. It’s why Jacob and Monica usually speak to each other in Korean. Anne and David are also bilingual, but they prefer to speak English.
There are other signs that Anne and David are more open to assimilating with Americans than Jacob and Monica are. The children (especially David) want to make new friends in their new hometown, while Jacob and Monica prefer to keep to themselves and feel more comfortable around the few other Korean immigrants in the area. (“Minari” was actually filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)
In California, Jacob was a very skilled farm worker whose specialty is being a chicken sexer: someone who identifies baby chickens by their sex, so that the males can be separated from the females. Female chickens are considered more valuable than male chickens because females can produce eggs. When the Yee family arrives in Arkansas, Jacob gets a chicken sexer job at a place called Wilkinson Hatcheries, which employs mostly Korean immigrants. Anne works there too, doing the same thing, but she’s new at learning this skill.
There’s been tension brewing between Jacob and Monica. When she first sees that they’ll be living in a trailer, instead of a house, she mutters to herself, “It just gets worse and worse.” And several times during the movie, Monica expresses regret about moving to Arkansas, and pines for what she says was the better life that the family had in California.
But Jacob has other ideas. The property they own in Arkansas comes with about one acre of land that’s ideal for farming. One of the first things that Jacob does is scoop up some of the grassy soil in his hands. He marvels, “This is the best dirt in America.”
Monica is dismayed that Jacob’s plans to have a backyard garden as a hobby quickly turns into plans to start a small farm. It’s a lot to handle for Jacob, who also needs to keep his day job at the hatchery company. Monica reluctantly goes along with Jacob’s decision for her and Jacob get a bank loan to start the farming business. Jacob’s plan is to sell his farm produce to places that carry Korean food. Jacob immediately begins teaching David some aspects of farm life, no doubt because Jacob thinks that David might want to inherit the farm someday.
Jacob determines that there’s enough water flow on the land to build a well and irrigation system. He then buys a tractor from a local, scruffy eccentric named Paul (played by Will Patton), who offers to work for Jacob on the farm. Paul is a Christian who’s a religious fanatic. One of the first things Paul does during the tractor sale is pray in tongues over the land. This behavior makes Jacob uncomfortable, so he declines Paul’s offer to work on the farm.
However, it soon becomes clear that Jacob has no one else to turn to in this sparsely populated area. Paul ends up working for Jacob, who learns to tolerate Paul’s religious quirks. For example, Jacob is a smoker, and the first time that he lights up a cigarette in front of Paul, the reaction from Paul is as if he’s near the fire of hell. In his free time, Paul has a habit of walking down the area’s dirt roads with a large, heavy wooden cross on his shoulder, to recreate the biblical story of Jesus doing the same thing.
Throughout the movie, it’s made every clear that the Yee family is very isolated. Monica suggests to Jacob that they move to a bigger city called Rogers in Arkansas, but he brushes off that suggestion and says they’ve invested too much in the property that they have now. Anne and David are homeschooled, but since Monica and Jacob have to spend their weekdays at the hatchery, they need someone to help take care of the kids during the day.
And that’s why Anne’s feisty mother Soonja (played by Yuh-jung Youn) comes to live with the family. She travels from Korea to Arkansas, but her immigration situation is never explained in the movie. Due to visa restrictions and how quickly that Soonja was able to get to Arkansas, it’s implied that her stay in Arkansas will be temporary. Jacob wants to make enough money through the farm so that eventually, he and Monica don’t have to work at the hatchery anymore and will be able to work from home while the kids are there.
However long Soonja plans to stay, “Minari” takes place over the course of about five or six months, with Soonja coming into the picture during the last couple of months that the story take place. In the movie, Anne mentions that she’s the only living relative for Soonja, who lost her husband in the Korean War. When Soonja arrives with food from Korea, such as chili powder and anchovies, Anne gets so emotional that she cries.
Soonja doesn’t get a very warm welcome from David though. It doesn’t help that David has to share his room with Soonja, even though she sleeps on the floor. David tells Soonja and his other family members why he doesn’t trust Soonja: David thinks she doesn’t act like a “real grandmother,” because she can’t read, she often curses, and she wears men’s underwear. Soonja tries to bond with David by cracking open a nut with her mouth and then telling him to eat it what she just spit out. Naturally, David refuses.
Soonja also tries to be friendly to David by giving him a pack of playing cards. Monica asks Soonja if that’s an appropriate gift for a 7-year-old. Soonja replies: “Start him young to beat these other bastards!”
David has a bed-wetting problem, and when Soonja finds out, she teases David by saying to him in Korean: “Penis is broken.” David replies, “It’s not called a penis! It’s called a ding-dong!” In an act of impish revenge, David plays a prank on Soonja that won’t be described in this review, but it’s enough to say that the prank can be considered amusing, nauseating or both.
Soonja and her minor clashes with David are the movie’s main comic relief, as the stress continues to build in the family because of problems with the farm. Starting the business has been a major financial drain on the family’s funds and there are some setbacks which make it questionable when or if the farm will be profitable. The more that it looks like the business will fail, the more that Monica wants to leave Arkansas.
Jacob refuses to quit, and he tells an increasingly frustrated Monica that it’s about more than the money. It’s about a sense of accomplishment and setting an example for their children: “They need to see me succeed at something,” Jacob says.
More than once, Jacob tells Monica that if the farm fails, she can do whatever she wants, including leaving him and taking the children with her. In other words, the stakes are pretty high for this family, which also has the added worries of some health problems that happen later in the story. Except for the bank loan and Paul’s assistance, Jacob doesn’t ask for much help. Part of it is because of his pride, but part of it could also be Korean culture, which teaches that families should try to keep their problems to themselves so that they won’t burden society.
Because the Yee family lives on a fairly isolated farm and the children are homeschooled, they don’t come in contact with a lot of the local people in their part of Arkansas. Therefore, “Minari” doesn’t have any scenarios where the Yees experience any blatant racial discrimination. Shortly after Soonja arrives, the Yee family attends a local church service, where the Yees are the only non-white parishioners. The white churchgoers are friendly and occasionally culturally ignorant, but they do not deliberately exclude the Yees.
The title of the movie comes from a noteworthy scene when Soonja and David are in the woods and she notices that a nearby creek would be ideal to grow minari. Soonja mentions that minari is the type of herb that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The minari becomes a metaphor not just for following a dream but also for persistence when there’s an obstacle to that dream.
Chung’s writing and direction for “Minari” are uncluttered but rich with emotions that are relatable to people who have close-knit families. There are some arguments and hard decisions that have to be made in how this family will move forward, but these scenes of conflict never look gimmicky just for the sake of bringing more drama to the story. The movie’s production design, cinematography and production design are assets in bringing authenticity to this family tale.
Yeun, Kim and Han deliver the movie’s most memorable performances. There’s an underlying power dynamic between their three characters in the movie that are the catalysts for the biggest developments in the story. Soonja’s arrival puts added pressure on Jacob to be the family’s chief provider, because he doesn’t want to look like he’s incapable of taking care of his family.
David and Jacob also know that Soonja is a reminder of Korea, a country that Jacob and Monica left to seek a better life in America. At one point, David comments about Soonja in a disdainful tone of voice that she “smells like Korea.” Even at this young age, David is aware that his parents think that they’re better off in America than in Korea. However, Soonja’s vibrant presence, even in her unsophisticated glory, is a reminder of how people shouldn’t be dismissive of their family heritage and the value of wisdom that comes with age.
“Minari” takes its time to get to the most dramatic part of the story. But viewers who like to immerse themselves in the everyday lives of a very specific family will find a lot to admire about this film. The movie takes place in the 1980s, but there are lessons learned in the story that are timeless.
A24 released “Minari” in select U.S. cinemas on February 11, 2021, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is February 26, 2021.
Genetically modified organisms in food, animal rights and corporate greed are issues that are explored in the Netflix film “Okja,” a satirical drama directed by Bong Joon Ho. “Okja” is available for streaming on Netflix and has a limited release in cinemas. For 10 idyllic years, young Mija (played by An Seo Hyun) has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja—a massive animal and an even bigger friend—at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for itself and transports her to New York, where image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando (played by Tilda Swinton) has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend. She is aided by her right-hand man, Frank Dawson (played by Giancarlo Esposito). Also interested in Okja is Dr. Johnny Wilcox (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), an eccentric TV personality who hosts his own show about nature.
With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission, but her already daunting journey quickly becomes more complicated when she crosses paths with disparate groups of capitalists, demonstrators and consumers, each battling to control the fate of Okja, while all Mija wants to do is bring her friend home. “Okja” also stars Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Lily Collis as animal-rights activists who are determined to help save Okja and other animals that are being bred for human consumption. Here is what Swinton, Dano, Yeun, Collins, Hyun and Bong had to say at a New York City press conference for “Okja.”
What was the most challenging thing about blending the emotions and the action in “Okja” that An Seo Hyun had to convey?
Hyun: On set, I was always thinking about how Mija would perceive all the things that are happening. I would say she was in a “Mija” state. Director Bong helped me constantly think about “Why Mija would do this?” and “What would Mija think?” That helped me maximize how Mija would think in the story.
Bong: An is very experienced, and she is very energetic and curious. She has enough energy to confront Tilda. And because of this high energy, when we filmed those scenic mountain scenes, we tried to distract Mija as best as we could. I would talk about catering, talk about snacks. I tried to distract her because if she tried too hard, the performance wouldn’t come out right. There are so many great actors and actresses around her, she might have been pressured into a poor performance. I did my best to try to relax her as much as possible.
Tilda, what can you say about your performance in “Okja”?
Swinton: It’s a very simple and relaxed business when you’re working with someone like Director Bong, who invited a kind of playfulness. He just described the relaxedness in all of his comedies, not just performance, but in all departments. Being a very intelligent person in what he knows is that he really wants people to be relaxed and bring something fresh and creative. That’s an environment that I love. It’s like a playpen, like a sandbox to me. It’s like kindergarten, especially working with him. He’s like my playmate.
Tilda, there was a similar fanaticism shown by Lucy Mirando in “Okja” and your Minister Mason character in director Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer” movie. What kinds of outside influences went into portraying someone like these characters?
Swinton: We worked on “Snowpiercer” together—Director Bong and I—and we whipped up this insane burlesque of Mason, who’s supposed to be beyond any reality, but as it happens, it seems we were behind the curve.
And for [Lucy Mirando], we wanted to have the idea of a full-clown villain in a slightly different way. We wanted to find different places of high capitalism and exploitation. And so we decided to split [the characters into twins]. We wanted to look at two different ways of messing the world up. She we had Nancy [Mirando, Lucy’s twin]—who doesn’t fall from the tree of her toxic, horrendous father—and Lucy, who’s so determined to be different. She’s driving 180 degrees from that and trying to be all user-friendly and woke and squeaky-clean and lovable. It was an opportunity to look at these two different places.
I suppose, especially when you’re working together in collaboration over projects, the conversation is kind of the same conversation, but it just evolved into a whole new area. There were all sorts of conversations we had about Mason sort of moved into conversations about Miranda. So they are cut from the same circle—and they all have teeth!
Director Bong, what is about monsters that make them so effective in talking about social issues?
Bong: I’m always drawn to creature films … [which usually] have the monster attack people. But in “Okja,” the creature was a very intimate friend of the protagonist, Mija. They stick together, they have lots of interaction, and they hug each other. It required a lot of cutting-edge visual effects work, which was the first challenge.
When I contemplate why I chose a pig as the animal, there’s no better animal than a pig that humans associate with food. There’s ham, sausage, jerky, etc. In reality, pigs are very delicate, sophisticated and smart. I think the true aspects of how we look at animals are coalesced inside a pig.
There’s one aspect where we look at animals as family, as friends, as pets. And the other perspective is when we look at animals as food. Those two aspects co-exist inside a pig. In our everyday lives, people try to separate these two universes. We play with our pets during the day, and at night, we have a steak dinner. But in this film, we tried to merge those two universes together and create a sense of discomfort. Like you said, a creature is a very effective tool to create social commentary in the world that we live in.
After doing such an unusual movie like “Okja,” where there’s a lot of absurdity in reality, do you go from here?
Esposito: We’re in that moment now in society. We’re right where should be. When I think of it, I think of working with people who have an interesting vision, who are deeply interconnected with pleasure and entertainment but also allowing my intellect to soar and my imagination to also take off and take wings. So when those get connected, you can’t help but leave this particular film without it resounding in your head. You not only were entertained, but you also have something to think about that is relatable to your life. I don’t know what’s next for me or any of us as actors, but we certainly hope to have the opportunity to work with visionary directors who have something to say, not just something to blow up.
Dano: I’ve always felt that the more personal something is, the more universal it can be. I think whatever means something to me is hopefully going to mean something to somebody else. I don’t know what that is. I think it’s different for everybody. I can’t think about it externally. I think it has to come through and then hopefully it speaks to somebody, whether it’s a big, absurd revelation or something very intimate or whatever the medium is.
Collins: I very much agree with the all sentiments that were said already, but for me, I just want to start conversations. I just want to do films that prompt conversations, whether they’re positive, negative or indifferent—ones where you leave wanting to know more and wanting to watch the film over and over again. I’ve always been a fan of people watching. I find that sometimes when you create a character and you think, “Oh, that’s too much.” And then you walk down the street and you think, “Yeah, it’s too little” or “That’s so subdued.” And then you watch someone and you think, “Actually, that more the way I want to go with it.”
I’m constantly surprised by human nature and humanity. And I think that’s why I love what I do, because I love to storytell and bring new characters to life. And every time I play a character, I discover more about myself as a human being. But I surround myself with interesting people. It doesn’t matter that I’m in this industry, I think in life, we want to surround ourselves with people who make us think and question ourselves. Those are the types of films I want to do and the types of characters that I hope I get to continue to play.
Did working on “Okja” affect the way you felt about animal-rights groups, how GMOs are used, and the corporate responsibility of the food industry?
Collins: I’ve always been weirdly interested in food documentaries. During the prep for this movie, I watched more. Director Bong gave us this ALF [Animal Liberation Front] handbook. I saw this really difficult images of animals and their treatment and the facilities. I’m not a red-meat eater anyway, so it wasn’t necessarily that I changed my food habits or eating habits, but I definitely became more of a conscious consumer in many other types of products.
I think the great thing about this film is that it speaks to so many different types of themes—nutrition, environment, politics, love, innocence lost. There’s just so many different things to be taken from this film that are dealt in a way that never tutorialize but always prompt conversation. I feel like what Director Bong is so amazing at is taking so many different things and presenting them to you—never telling you how to think, but if you leave the theater thinking something, then we’ve done our job right.
Yeun: I really enjoyed working with Director Bong mostly because he likes just to tell it to you how it is with all the gray. And so when you get to dive into something like the ALF, I know that we were playing a characterization of people who are really doing stuff like this. I feel like one thing it sheds a light on—at least for myself—is “Why does an individual sign up for something like this?”
And they’re all different, especially in our own [“Okja”] little subgroup of the ALF. Every single character had a different reason for being there or had different ethics that [made the individuals] willing to go farther or less than the other person next to them. It was an interesting study in that regard, because sometimes you see the ALF, as they intend, to be this giant, glob organization. But when you take apart the specific individuals who take part in something like this, it’s interesting to see that not all of interests necessarily align.
How did you reconcile that many of the protagonists in “Okja” condemn violence yet they use violent methods to achieve their goals?
Bong: There is definitely a level of contradiction in the ALF. Even in the film, the ALF [members] shout that they hate violence, but you can see throughout the film that they constantly inflict it. They have a very noble cause—you can understand the cause—but the film also portrays them to at times look foolish and making very human mistakes. They’re humans just like us.
Mirando isn’t a villainess in the pure sense. She has her flaws and fragilities … So whether that be people in the Mirando corporation or whether that be the ALF members, he wanted to embrace them within the boundaries of humanity where they make flaws and make human mistakes.
Dano: Just thinking about what Director Bong said, I was thinking how complicated it is to put a beautiful young girl in the middle of all that contradiction. It’s really one of the special things about the story. It’s a curious line between somebody like [my
Okja” character\ Jay and somebody like Lucy. Jay’s cause seems a lot nobler, but I think we believe in our own causes to the extent that it causes us to do something we don’t want to do, and often without knowing it or being able to justify it or look the other.
I like that the film, even though it has many topical issues, I don’t think it’s really preaching. It’s too complicated for that. Mija eats chicken stew, but she catches a little fish and thrown the fish back in [the water]. That’s such an important detail for this film to be true. And even though it has a fantasy-animation-graphic-novel sort of level to it, I like the truth in the contradictions.
To the actors, what was your initial response when you read the “Okja” script?
Collins: Finally! Here’s something so bizarre and great. The tag line is about a little girl who goes after her best friend that’s a pig. To be able to play a small part in such a big message is something I jumped at the chance to be a part of. My first meeting with Director Bong was at 11 a.m., and he orders ice cream and starts talking about this pig.
And I was like, “Okay, I think I know what I’m signing on for.” I fell in love with the idea that he could see me as this character. And I don’t think a lot of people would be able to see as someone like this, but it’s so much a love story and a drama and a comedy and an action movie and a fantasy movie. It’s kind of everything you wanted to see in one movie. It was a moment of enlightenment when I read it.
Esposito: For me, in many ways, it was a return to innocence. It’s odd for me to say, having played Frank Dawson, but this story is absolutely beautiful in its very connected relationship message. It doesn’t matter what that relationship is. It could be a child with their goldfish in a tank who is their best friend, or it could be Okja.
But that warmth, that sensitivity and that understanding that’s developed in that relationship, for me, guided me back to think about my loss of innocence. When did I grow up? And how can I un-learn that growing up and see the world in a new light? Many times, we are so smart that we are ignorant. And they say that education is learned ignorance. We as performers fantasize about telling our stories that will make a social comment or political comment or artistic comment are gifted with the ultimate gift: to be able to remain somewhere in our heart and soul that beautiful child that Mija is.
Swinton: I didn’t read the script for a long time because I was part of the cloud of the idea before it ever came to script stage. And I remember very clearly when we went to Seoul for the premiere of “Snowpiercer,” he drove us to the airport the next day and leaned over the seat of the car and showed me this drawing of a pig and a girl. And that was it. That was about three years before there was a script.
But even before that moment, I have to say it was one of the things Director Bong and I share is a love for the great director Hayao Miyazaki—in particular, “My Neighbor Totoro.” In fact, we regularly sing “Totoro” tunes. And so the second I saw the story, I saw that, and I saw an opportunity to fill to that homage. But also, we talked about the twin sisters in “Spirited Away,” which I think was a seed of the Mirando sisters. I was in before [the script] existed. Put it that way.
Do you think people will find the Okja creature adorable beyond the film?
Esposito: Okja dolls! Okja pillows!
Swinton: I think young children will be asking their parents, “Where are Okja reservations? Is there are Okja [section] in zoos?” They’ll be looking on Wikipedia for an Okja page.
Bong: Our visual-effects supervisor Erik-Jan De Boer did such a wonderful job. It looks so real in the movie. I was very happy reactions from some people. I wish I had an Okja in my house. I worked with Erik for over a year, striving for realism. With a cartoonish character, you can’t really draw from those kinds of emotions. We have to look at something realistic.
Swinton: Mija has such a sensual relationship with Okja. Don’t we all want to fall asleep on Okja’s belly? It’s really a feeling of physical comfort.