Just two years have passed since Youn Yuh-jung broke new ground at the 27th Screen Actors Guild Awards by becoming the first performer of Asian descent to triumph in any individual film category. Now, the Korean Best Supporting Actress winner for “Minari” will likely be joined in this regard by “Everything Everywhere All at Once” costars Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, who were both born (in Malaysia and Vietnam, respectively) to Chinese families. She would be the first Asian Best Film Actress recipient, while he would be the first Asian winner of either individual male film trophy.
Yeoh and Quan’s performances as married couple Evelyn and Waymond Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” have earned them the number one spots on Gold Derby’s Best Film Actress and Supporting Actor predictions lists. They and their cast mates also appear to be the ones to beat in this year’s ensemble race, while the film could also reasonably net dual supporting female bids for Stephanie Hsu (who is also of Chinese descent) and Jamie Lee Curtis. Also included in the cast are James Hong and Harry Shum Jr., who are both North American-born sons of Chinese immigrants.
At this point, the only Asian woman who has ever competed for the Best Film Actress SAG Award is Yeoh’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” costar Ziyi Zhang (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” 2006), who lost to Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”). Two of the category’s winners – Julie Christie (“Away from Her,” 2008) and Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” 2011) – were born in Asia but are both of European descent.
Three Asian men have previously contended for Best Film Supporting Actor, with Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai,” 2004) being the only one to originate from the continent (specifically Japan). Ben Kingsley (“Sexy Beast,” 2002) and Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire,” 2009; “Lion,” 2017) were both born in England to Indian families. Kingsley lost his race to Ian McKellen (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”), while Watanabe was bested by Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Patel by Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”) and Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”).
Kingsley was not only the first Asian performer ever individually nominated for SAG Award, but also became the first such winner when he received the 2002 Best TV Movie/Limited Series Actor prize for “Anne Frank: The Whole Story.” In 2019, he was followed in the same category by Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”), who has Filipino and Chinese heritage.
The only SAG Award winner of Asian descent in either of the TV comedy categories is Tony Shalhoub (“Monk,” 2004-2005; “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” 2019-2020). On the drama side, the first such victor was Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy,” 2006; “Killing Eve,” 2019), followed by “Squid Game” stars Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon in 2022. The only primarily Asian cast that has won any SAG ensemble award is that of the Korean film “Parasite” in 2020.
Nominations for the 29th SAG Awards will be announced on Wednesday, January 11 with the ceremony following on Sunday, February 26.
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