Yul Brynner in ‘The King and I,’ 1956 (Gold Derby)
The Oscars are this weekend (Sunday, Feb. 28th), and the big controversy this year has centered around the lack of non-white acting nominees (and continues last year’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag). But when talked about in detail, the conversation has seemed to focus more on including Black nominees and narratives. And that’s great! But there are a wealth of other races and ethnicities that need to be included in the conversation and given a place at the table.
This led me to wonder: how many Asian acting nominees and winners have there been in the history of the Academy Awards? Spoiler alert: not all that many, sadly.
The Best Actor category has seen the most Asian men win the award: Yul Brynner in 1956, and Ben Kingsley in 1982. These two men comprise two-thirds of the category’s Asian nominees.
Actress Merle Oberon was the first Asian nominated for any Oscar, and the first nominated for Best Actress. (The category was called “Best Lead Actress” when she was nominated in 1935.) She remains the sole Asian woman nominee of the category.
Of the seven Asian men who received Best Supporting Actor nominations spanning 1957 to 2003, only one has won: Haing S. Ngor in 1984. Six Asian women have received Best Supporting Actress nominations, but only one has won: Miyoshi Umeki in 1957.
Considering that these categories have five nominees each, and the Academy Awards have been occurring since 1930, this nominations/wins-to-visibility ratio is…fucking pathetic.
I really hope this year teaches the Academy a lesson, and we’ll begin to see more diverse characters and stories not just on screen, but materially validated by the old guard as well.