Steven Yeun blazes an Oscars trail as first-ever Asian American Best Actor nominee
The former Walking Dead star became the first Asian American actor of Korean descent to receive a Best Actor nomination from the Academy on Monday for his work in Lee Isaac Chung's Best Picture-nominated drama. Together, Yeun and English-Pakistani performer Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) became the first two actors of Asian descent to compete for Best Actor in the same year.
Yeun — who plays an immigrant father relocating his family to rural America in search of economic prosperity — is the first person with Asian roots to appear in the category since Ben Kingsley, who is of Indian descent, scored a nomination for House of Sand and Fog in 2004. Yeun was born in Seoul, and his family immigrated to Canada before settling in Michigan, where the actor grew up.
Other Asian actors to appear in the category throughout history include Yul Brynner (The King and I), Topol (Fiddler on the Roof), and Kingsley twice (House of Sand and Fog, Gandhi). In 1958, Miyoshi Umeki (Sayonara) became the actor of East Asian descent to have won an Oscar.
Minari also made headway elsewhere among the Oscar nominations, as Yuh-Jung Youn received a Best Supporting Actress nod for her performance as Yeun's mother-in-law, while Chung is a dual nominee in both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Though pundits pointed out a lack of stories about the Black experience in Best Picture (including heavily campaigned contenders like Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Regina King's One Night in Miami), the Oscars still registered key milestones for representation, as Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to receive a Best Director nod in a category that nominated two women (Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell is the other) for the first time in history. Viola Davis also became the most-nominated Black actress in history with her fourth overall nod for her work in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
"It's a journey and I do see it shifting; things like Parasite help," Yeun previously told EW of Minari hitting shortly after Parasite made history as the first Korean film to win Best Picture at the top of 2020. "It helps inform people like, 'This is a film where it's just people being people. It just happens to be a different culture.'"
The Oscars will air April 25 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.
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