BANGKOK — Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the only Thai filmmaker to win a Palme d’Or, was named today as the first Thai member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The Khon Kaen-born director said he learned Wednesday night he would be recognized internationally once again as one of 683 new Academy members, which means the next year’s 89th Oscars will be in his hands.
“I’m glad for the honor. This reflects that there’s fewer boundaries between filmmakers and audiences,” said Apichatpong, joking the news has been met with more hype in Thailand than when he won cinema’s highest prize at Cannes in 2010 for “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”
Apichatpong’s films are often praised for an unconventional approach to narrative and themes which have brought him many prestigious awards, including Cannes’ Un Certain Regard for 2002 “Blissfully Yours” and the Prix du Jury for “Tropical Malady” in 2004.
His invitation to join the Academy comes as it is under greater pressure to diversify its membership after another year of handing out awards to a pool of mostly white recipients. Not a single actor of color has been even nominated since 2014.
While Apichatpong’s films have won wide acclaim, they’ve sometimes been suppressed back home.
In 2007, his fifth film “Syndromes and a Century” was banned domestically after he refused to remove four scenes the Censorship Board asked be removed, including monks playing guitar, and doctors kissing and drinking alcohol while on duty.
Afterward Apichatpong formed the Free Thai Cinema movement to push for modernization of the film ratings system.
Even so, some films remain banned under the Motion Pictures and Video Act of 2008.
Citing the film ratings system and current political climate, Apichatpong decided to forego screening his latest feature at home, declining to submit “Cemetery of Splendour” to review by censors.
Asked about his views on the Oscars, the 45-year-old Chiang Mai-based director admitted he would like to learn from their system to strengthen Thailand’s film industry.
“In the United States, private organizations play a big role in the film business. There are unions and guilds for each profession which give liberty in creating works and controlling their own circles. The government hardly has anything to do with them,” he said. “By being a member of the Academy, I’m given a chance to learn their system, so that I can suggest and express my voice to help strengthen the Thai film industry.”
Also among the 683 new inductees to the Academy, Thai-American costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb. Her prominent works include 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and the 2015 “Steve Jobs” biopic.