An alleged lack of Asian representation in the media has been an argument that’s been around for quite some time. If you believe there aren’t enough Asians in media I’m going to say you aren’t looking hard enough. There were theaters in New York not too long ago dedicated solely to only showing martial arts movies. Both the hero, villain, and entire cast in those movies were Asian. Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are both household names and all of America shed a tear when Jeffrey Dean Morgan turned Steven Yeun’s cerebral cortex into grade A ground beef on The Walking Dead. Sandra Oh isn’t making much sense by saying racism is the reason why she misunderstood that she was being offered the lead role for the Killing Eve show. To me that sounds like self-doubt with a side of low self-esteem. If anyone is allowed to complain about racism it should be the Asian actress they stereotyped by sticking her in a yellow Power Rangers suit and telling her to do kung fu for a paycheck.
In an interview with Vulture’s E. Alex Jung, Oh described in almost poetic terms the search for the right project. She has opportunities and the option to say “no” to work, she says, but still grapples with measuring her career against others and the challenges of staying creative. Also, racism.
Jung, who’s Korean-American, talked to Oh about the challenges of defining a path for oneself with very little representation in media of what that path can be.
Sandra Oh on racism:
When I got the script for Killing Eve, I remember I was walking around in Brooklyn and I was on my phone with my agent, Nancy. I was quickly scrolling down the script, and I can’t really tell you what I was looking for. So I’m like, “So Nancy, I don’t understand, what’s the part?” And Nancy goes “Sweetheart, it’s Eve, it’s Eve.” In that moment, I did not assume the offer was for Eve. I think about that moment a lot. Of just going, how deep have I internalized this? [So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers.
Being attractive is very important to landing lead roles no matter what your race is. Lucy Liu is accomplished and often played a heroine. But it’s also because she has the power to make nine out of every ten men pitch tents. Show business is about showing off and lead roles are always reserved for the pretty girls. Sandra has had the appearance of a 40-year-old woman her entire career. This situation happens to be less about being Asian and more about being of average level attractiveness. Better luck next life.
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