By Dea Davita Krisanda
Fresh off the 2018 train, the Golden Globe Awards welcomed us into the new year with some exciting news: Sandra Oh was to become the first Asian actress ever to host a prominent award show in the United States. (She also won her second Globe, this time for Best Actress in a Television Drama!) With such a spectacular and diverse lineup of films last year, this moment is yet another breakthrough for representation in the media. As I laughed and cried to the many things that happened at the Golden Globes, I couldn’t help but think, what a nice way to start the year.
For those of you who aren’t well acquainted with Sandra Oh, she is an Asian-Canadian actress, best known for her work as Dr. Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy and more recently, as Eve in Killing Eve. She was born in Ontario, Canada, but her parents originally emigrated from South Korea to study. In addition to hosting the Globes, Oh also became the first Asian actress ever to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Oh is her passion and tenacity, which comes across in all of her roles, and in her real life too. When she left for college, Oh decided to decline a Journalism scholarship to Carleton University so that she could pursue her acting career instead. In a 2007 interview on The Ellen Degeneres Show, after she won her first Globe, Oh stated that her parents initially disapproved of her decision. She said, “They go like, 'What’s the purpose of it? What is the social purpose of what you’re doing?' Because they really instilled in all of us, my sister and my brother, that whatever you do has to be good for society and (acting) just doesn’t seem to be." Despite the odds, she continued to study in the National Theatre School of Canada, paying her own tuition.
The Globes opened with a monologue from Oh and her co-host, Andy Samberg, as per usual. They presented and joked about the nominated actors and films of the night: Black Panther, If Beale Street Could Talk, Roma, and A Star is Born. However, the highlight of this first segment was when Oh sarcastically introduced Crazy Rich Asians as “the first studio film with an Asian-American lead since ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and ‘Aloha.’” The two latter are noted to have whitewashed their casts, specifically the roles played by Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone. After Oh’s statement, Stone, who was in the crowd, screamed “I’m sorry!” and Oh acknowledged her with a smile. Not only was she able to correct what was mistaken, Oh also responded with an act of peace and redemption, not anger and revenge.
While Oh has opened yet another door for more conversation, what really took everyone’s breath away was her Best Actress acceptance speech for her performance in Killing Eve. Sure, there was the typical moment of shock and all the thank-yous. But the moment she mentioned her parents and bowed on stage…it may not be common here, but bowing is one of the ways to show respect in Asia. For Oh to do so on stage is a declaration of gratitude and honor of her parents. Yet, somehow, I felt that it was also something bigger—to Oh, to her parents and family, and most importantly, to the audience in that room (or even those at home) that night. To do such an intimate gesture on a live international program is enormous. I would even say that Oh is starting a dialogue between cultural worlds. Thus, coming back to her parents’ question, “What is the social purpose of what you’re doing?” I and all the people who watched the Globes will answer, “This is the social purpose of what she’s doing.”
It has indeed been a long overdue awakening, but with the Globes starting the year on a good note, one can only hope that this is a sign of more amazing things to come for inclusion and diversity. (Here’s to the Oscars!) I would like to end this celebratory piece with Oh’s own words from that night: “I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change. And I’m not fooling myself. I’m not fooling myself. Next year could be different. It probably will be. But right now, this moment is real.”