Television

Sandra Oh is Not Your Model Minority

I’m not here to say why Sandra Oh, the first woman of Asian descent nominated for an Emmy as a leading actress in a drama, should have won and that she was robbed. I’m not here to pit her against the other women in the category, and I’m not here to come for Claire Foy. Actually, I love The Crown, and I love Foy in it. Congrats, Claire and thanks for the Sandra shout-out.

What I am here to say is that as TV and film gets more diverse, and as award nominations reflect that change, we need to change the way we talk about the nominees. Yes, Sandra Oh did a stunning job on her a leading role and her work should be rewarded. Hell, her talent and work made history this year! But if were gonna talk about her loss at the Emmys, we gotta get one thing straight.

It was not her fault.

ETOnline posted a headline titled “Sandra Oh Misses Out On Making History At The Emmy’s and People Are Mad.” I beg to differ.

Sandra didn’t miss out on anything. Missing out is when you show up late to work and you don’t get the surprise Dunkin Donuts. Missing out is when you “are off social media” so you miss your brother’s girlfriend’s birthday invitation. Sandra didn’t show up late to the cookout. She was invited, and kindly attended. It’s not her fault she didn’t win. I’m not saying that the award shows doesn’t have a racist streak. April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite made us all aware of that. But if we’re going to say that Sandra “missed out,” like she missed a text, then we got it all wrong.

Sandra Oh is an incredible actress who deserved an Emmy years ago for her role as Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy. But as an actress, she has little to no agency on whether or not she gets nominated, let alone wins, any award. Acting, just like any other artistic endeavor, is a mix of talent, perseverance, and hard work. But most of all, it’s luck that lightning will strike at the right time.

If Lea Salonga had been 24 instead of 18 when Cameron Mackintosh came calling, she might not have been Miss Saigon. Timing. If Ruthie Ann Miles had been playing Lady Thiang in The King And I in literally any other revival of that show, she might not have been nominated for a Tony, let alone won. She didn’t just win for that role because she’s a talented actress. She also won because Tony voters finally saw that role as worthy of acknowledgement. Again, timing.

The same goes for Sandra Oh. It was an amazing time for her to get this role and be nominated. But maybe it’s not the right time for Emmy voters.

So how about we avoid talking about Sandra Oh’s loss like she ran a marathon and didn’t train hard enough? That’s model minority guilt in full force. You know, the guilt that says you should have “done better, worked harder, studied more” when in fact you already did more than enough? Saying she “came close,” and it was a “near-Emmy victory…a would-be achievement,” puts her loss all on her. And as anyone involved in media will tell you, that’s far from the truth. There’s producers campaigning left and right, and voters to pander to and FYC parties to throw. Go after them; make your voices heard! But leave Sandra Oh alone.

As Sandra herself said to ET’s Kevin Frazier on the Emmys red carpet “it’s also [important] to be patient, you know what I mean? Because change is slow and I don’t want people to ever give up on it.”

So lay off the model minority guilt and let Sandra make season 2 of Killing Eve. She’s got a 2019 Emmy nomination to prepare for, after all.

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