Sandra Oh: An Icon of Asian Representation
North America is perceived to have one of the most culturally diverse populations. As the hub of globalization, generations of immigrants play fundamental roles in society. However, this diversity seems to be specifically excluded in Hollywood. A Japanese character was portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell while Emma Stone played a part-Hawaiian Chinese character in Aloha. These two movies in particular are perpetually mocked by the Asian community and rightfully so. By “whitewashing” the films and having White actors replace competent Asian actors, the implication is that Hollywood has no place for Asians on its front lines, further pushing aside long overdue representation on screen.
The media plays a crucial role in how we think others might see us. A lack of validation for minorities through unequal representation further solidifies racial archetypes imposed by society. Individuals of such communities may believe that they have to conform to these character-moulds. Increased diversity of actors and increased variety of roles given to stereotyped groups would allow a more inclusive representation on screen, which may influence how we, as minorities, see ourselves.
2019 was the year that finally brought a breakthrough in the representation of Asian culture to the Western world. Films such as Crazy Rich Asians and Parasite garnered international accolades while Asian actors in the west were finally given leading roles. Although seemingly abrupt in its emergence, this proper representation was made possible by the continuous efforts of actors and actresses such as Sandra Oh who have worked their way up from small roles to progressively more impactful leading characters. This also meant having to work against existing racism in the film industry. In 2016, only 13.9% of lead actors in films were of colour while the remaining 86.1% were White (Hunt, Darnell, et al.). Furthermore, Asian representation would only be a fraction of that 13.9%. Oh recollects how when she was cast in Killing Eve, “[she] did not assume the offer was for [the lead]” (Yam) and did not believe that “[she] would be one of the central storytellers” (Yam). She claims “it took 30 years to get this call” (Desta) – to be cast as something more than an “inevitable doctor or receptionist role” (Desta).
Oh is a Golden Globe winner and has earned five Emmy nominations with her role in Grey’s Anatomy (Desta). Her career flaunts remarkable achievements as a person of colour. This means that she has become an icon of first-generation immigrant success. However, Oh has not only represented Asians in Hollywood purely by virtue of visibility. She has been at the forefront of Asian empowerment, confronting the existing culture that excludes Asian representation. For example, she has publicly echoed the need for a more diverse cast and crew during her work on Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve (Desta).
Sandra Oh and her colleagues of colour are taking part in the paradigm shift within Hollywood and Western society in general to show that visible minorities can and deserve to be more than the trusted side-kick to a White hero storyline. She says, “I’m here for you. And I’ll continue doing everything I can to fill something that I know you need right now, that we don’t yet have as a community” (Desta).
Desta, Yohana. “Sandra Oh's Been Waiting 30 Years for a Show Like Killing Eve.” Vanity Fair,
Vanity Fair, 6 Apr. 2018, www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/04/killing-eve-sandra-oh
Hunt, Darnell, et al. "Hollywood Diversity Report 2018: Five years of progress and missed
opportunities." UCLA College: Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (2018).
Yam, Kimberly. “Sandra Oh Assumed She Wasn't Up For Lead In 'Killing Eve' Due To
Hollywood Racism.” HuffPost Canada, HuffPost Canada, 11 Apr. 2018.