On Thursday, Sandra Oh became the first actress of Asian descent to garner an Emmy nomination for best lead actress in a drama while Darren Criss became the second actor of Asian descent to earn an Emmy nod for best lead actor in a limited series or TV movie. Best known for her decade on Grey’s Anatomy, Oh was honored for her critically acclaimed performance as disgraced MI5 detective Eve Polastri in BBC America’s Killing Eve. A supporting player on Glee, Criss delivered a star turn as spree killer Andrew Cunanan in FX’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
Should these actors take home the award on Sept. 17—Criss is widely considered one of the front-runners in his category, whereas Oh will have to build on her momentum to prevail against five returning nominees, including 2017 winner Elisabeth Moss—they would become only the third and fourth acting Emmy winners of Asian descent, after Riz Ahmed for The Night Of in 2017 and Archie Panjabi for The Good Wife in 2010.
The serendipitous pairing of Oh’s and Criss’ roles also suggests that initiatives toward inclusiveness in Hollywood should be two-pronged: through colorblind casting when it comes to characters whose stories aren’t about their race (as was the case with Oh’s Polastri), as well as through stories specific to the Asian American experience (such as that of the half-Filipino Cunanan, who suffered racial discrimination within the gay community).
These record-breaking achievements are all the more poignant for arriving one day after news broke that a movie studio intends to make a fictionalized version of the Thai cave rescue as “a major Hollywood film with A-list stars”—a phrase that has previously served as a justification for whitewashing stories. Criss’ and Oh’s performances illustrate that acting talent among performers of Asian descent is out there—but won’t be given a chance to reveal itself without the opportunities necessary to create new A-listers.