Emil Guillermo: I am but a trim tab for diversity watching Sandra Oh on the Golden Globes

Image for Emil Guillermo: I am but a trim tab for diversity watching Sandra Oh on the Golden Globes

Ken Jeong got all sorts of face time on NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes, but “Crazy Rich Asians” went empty handed and left the night Globeless.

This was one Golden Globes when it wasn’t about the winning. It was just being there and using the platform to be seen.

But Sandra Oh was like a triple threat.

She was the host. She was seen. And she won.

Oh is the Asian Canadian, or do we call them Asian Cans, because she sure showed the world she can  do anything not in a nursing scrub.  As host, she was Hollywood glam from the start, like I’ve never seen her. She was there as a real Asian face.

A joke about Andy Samberg—a white guy—reading Oh’s part was a clever way to introduce the “whitewashing” of Hollywood without yelling “racist. “

Oh mentioned examples of how whitewashing really works, like in “Ghost in the Shell,”(which I spoke about in a previous podcast).

Oh’s remark reportedly prompted Emma Stone to shout out “I’m sorry” for her whitewashed role in “Aloha.” It wasn’t apparent on the broadcast, but social media picked it up, a reminder of how witnesses are everywhere in the modern age.

If Stone did yell out, I accept her apology. But it’s up to the bosses and producers who’ve defined commercial viability in all of show business by race. An apology would be nice from them. Better yet, more stories about Asians and Asian Americans, with roles for Asian and Asian American actors would prove they get it.

It’s happening, maybe not as fast as we would all want. Still, it’s a far cry from when white actors like Leonard Strong played the bad Japanese general in “Back to Bataan” in the 1940s and actually made a living off playing Asian roles when there were plenty of Asian and Asian American actors available.  That was Strong’s thing–the central casting of white Asians.

Oh’s presence as host shows people are starting to get it. And the whitewashing bit set up Oh’s big moment.

As she held back tears, Oh looked at the screen and spoke to all people of color everywhere.

“I see you, all those faces of change,” she said, “And now so will everyone else.”

More than the sentimental display of Oh’s parents among the crowd, this was the landmark moment that was all I needed, and right at the top of the show.

 It was subtle and graceful, delivered by the co-host, who later won a best actress award.

It was Sandra Oh’s fairy tale night, but she knew she wasn’t alone. And she told the world.

So I wasn’t bothered that “Crazy Rich Asians” was shut out. Or even “Black Panther.”  Not when the movie “Green Book” about a road trip through the racist south is a big winner. And Sandra Oh has her moment.

This was a show where Asians, blacks, Latinos, women and LGBTQs all had moments.

In Hollywood, the message is slowly sinking in.

There was Darren Criss, the San Francisco born American Filipino actor, who won a Globe for playing Andrew Cunanan, the half-Filipino killer of Gianni Versace.

Like Cunanan, Criss is half-Filipino and half-white, and has long down played his own ethnicity, wanting to make it more about talent than race.  

Yeah, we all want to do it on talent. But when casting is whitewashed and you’re half, you have options. The rest of us can’t claim our white side.

When he won an Emmy last September he didn’t mention his Filipinoness.

But this time, Criss embraced it fully, mentioning his mom as a “firecracker Filipino woman from Cebu.”

Sometimes the awareness is needed on both sides of the producer/actor equation.

So maybe we are in a new era. And Oh was the perfect host to usher in the new message.

We’re all here together. Let’s see it all on our screens big and small.

Believe me, I get it. I talk about my white/Filipino conflict in my show “Emil Amok: Sex and Affirmative Action.” (For reading this, use the special discount code: SPF2EG$20.

Come see it Jan. 27, Feb. 1, and Feb. 7th in San Francisco!

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
read Emil's bio