Since leaving The Walking Dead in 2016, Steven Yeun has been keeping very busy, appearing in TV shows like Twilight Zone and I Think You Should Leave, and doing voiceover work on everything ranging from Voltron to Trollhunters to Tuca & Bertie, in which sweet, sweet Speckle. On the film side, he’s been in Okja, Sorry to Bother You, and Burning, giving a fantastic performance that was sadly overlooked by awards bodies like the Oscars. Indeed, as we saw earlier this year with Parasite, even when Asian-centered films are successful and winning tons of awards, the acting categories remain pretty skint on nominations for Asian and Asian-American actors. Steven Yeun has delivered a series of strong performances in film and television—so far, no one has had a more interesting post-Walking Dead career—but he’s been consistently overlooked on the awards front. Maybe this year will be different? Yeun’s next film is Minari¸ an ensemble family drama that premiered earlier this year to strong reviews at Sundance.
The first trailer for Minari is out, and it looks like the kind of “fresh start on the farm” story we’re used to seeing centered on white families in rural America. This story, though, is about an immigrant Korean family searching for a fresh start on a farm in the rural American South. There are signs of drama—they can’t find water, there’s a fire—and signs of humor—the little boy telling his grandmother he’s not pretty, he’s “good-looking”—and it looks like a lush, emotional film. Minari was heaped with praise at Sundance, and at least by the trailer, it looks like it will live up to the hype. Also, Yeun has demonstrated such incredible taste in picking film projects the last few years, I sort of trust that if he’s in it, there is a baseline of quality.
The question is if Yeun, or anyone from the cast including Yeri Han and Youn Yuh-jung, can crack the acting categories at the Oscars. Maybe a classic family struggle drama will resonate with voters, even though the cast is speaking Korean half the time? Distributor A24 is clearly positioning Minari to be a contender, presumably this year, though the trailer only says “Coming soon”. As we’ve learned this year, “Coming soon” is flexible and could mean anything from now or years from now. Hopefully, it comes out in time for the February 28, 2021 Oscar eligibility deadline. With most of the Hollywood hopefuls evacuating 2020 for hopefully greener pastures later next year, this year’s Oscars could be the year that typically overlooked films like Minari shine through. I hope it does. Everyone needs to appreciate how amazing Steven Yeun has been since leaving The Walking Dead. Glen getting killed off was the best thing for him, in retrospect.