Film Forward

In 70 Years, An Asian Woman Has Never Been Nominated For A Best Actress Emmy — Until Now

Sandra Oh just made history.

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Whether or not she wins the trophy on September 17, Sandra Oh just made Emmy history. The former Grey's Anatomy star was just nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her leading role on BBC America's Killing Eve, becoming the first actress of Asian heritage to earn a leading role nomination.

Oh, who plays the titular role of Eve Polastri on the Phoebe Waller-Bridge series opposite Jodie Comer's Villanelle, previously opened up about institutionalized racism and limitations for Asian performers in leading roles. After all, in the past 70 years of the Emmys, no actor or actress of an Asian background has been nominated for lead roles in either comedy or drama.

According to the most recent Boxed In study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, which looks at all types of programming across all platforms, actresses of Asian heritage were only represented in 6 percent of roles during the 2016-2017 season. This was a slight increase over the 4 percent represented for the 2015-2016 season, and we do not yet know how the numbers changed, if at all, for the 2017-2018 season. Even when they represented, Asian performers are usually secondary characters at best, and fulfill the roles of sidekicks, best friends, or are cast as stereotypes. TV shows such Fresh Off the Boat are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to Asian representation.

Oh, who was born in Canada to Korean immigrant parents, is no stranger to the Emmys, though. During her run on Grey's Anatomy, she was nominated for five Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series trophies but won none of them. Recent wins for performers of Asian heritage at the Emmys include British-Indian actress Archie Panjabi, who won for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series thanks to The Good Wife in 2010, and British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed, who won for Best Actor In a Limited Series thanks to The Night Of in 2017.

Facing off against Oh in the category are some talented actresses who offer up some stiff competition. They are: Claire Foy (The Crown), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale), Keri Russell (The Americans), and Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld). No matter what happens here, Oh has certainly earned a spot in the history books.

(H/T: Entertainment Tonight)

Cover image: BBC America / Sid Gentle Films Ltd 2018

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