Oscar slate holds ‘firsts’ for Asian actors, filmmakers

Lindsey Bahr Ap Film Writer
Friday, April 23, 2021

It may be hard to believe that there are still many “firsts” left to check off after 93 years of the Academy Awards, and yet this year there were a handful for Asian actors and filmmakers.

Steven Yeun ("Minari") became the first Asian American actor to be nominated for best actor. Riz Ahmed ("Sound of Metal") is the first Muslim to be nominated for best actor. It’s the first time that there are two best actor candidates of Asian heritage. Youn Yuhjung ("Minari") is the first Korean woman to be nominated for any acting award. “Nomadland’s” Chloé Zhao is the first Asian woman to be nominated for best director. And, with director Lee Issac Chung ’s directing nomination for “Minari,” it’s also the first time there are two Asian nominees in that race.

The historic gains spotlight where the organization has made progress and where there is still work to do, especially after a year in which Asian Americans were increasingly targeted in racist attacks.

Nancy Yuen, author of the book “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” said the nominations this year are exciting. The actors are being recognized for roles, Yuen said, “That are not demeaning, that aren’t fitting into stereotypes that are problematic. They are fully complex human beings.”

That hasn’t always been the case for Asian actors who have broken through to the Oscars. The first and last time an Asian woman won for acting was in 1958 when Japanese actor Miyoshi Umeki won for her supporting role in “Sayonara.”

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