Meet the Only 3 Asian Actors Who’ve Ever Won an Oscar
The 2017 Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, and while recognizing films such as “Lion”, “Hidden Figures”, “Moonlight” and “Fences” is an important move towards more diversity, Asians and Asian-Americans are still shamefully underrepresented in the film industry.
Considered to be one of today’s greatest directors, Taiwanese-born Ang Lee, has received Academy Awards for best director for “Brokeback Mountain” in 2006 and “Life of Pi” in 2013, and best foreign language for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2001.
However, an actor of Asian descent has not taken home an Oscar since 1985.
What may be more enraging is that no Asian film has ever snagged an Oscar for best picture, and only one Asian woman — Merle Oberons for her work in “The Dark Angel” in 1935 — has been nominated for best actress.
While we wait to see if Dev Patel brings home that golden statue on February 26 for his performance in “Lion”, here are the only Asian actors and actress to win an Academy Award:
Singer and actress Miyoshi Umeki became the first, and currently only, woman of Asian origin to take home an Academy Award in 1958. Her role in “Sayonara”, a love story between a U.S. soldier and Japanese woman during the Korean War, won her the Best Supporting Actress award.
Born May 8, 1929 in Otaru, a city on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan, Umeki was the youngest of nine children, according to the Washington Post.
Her father and mother, who owned an iron factory, despised American music, so she had no choice but to practice singing with a bucket over her head.
Umeki earned a Tony Award nomination for playing the Chinese mail-order bride Mei Li in “Flower Drum Song” on Broadway, a role she reprised in the 1961 film adaptation.
She acted in a number of other romantic comedies and dramas, including “Cry for Happy”, “The Horizontal Lieutenant” and “A Girl Named Tamiko”.
Umeki retired in 1972 after a three-year run as Mrs. Livingston in “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” on ABC.
She died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 78.
Sir Ben Kingsley
Although he is acclaimed in England for his stage performance in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet” with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Kingsley’s breakthrough role came in 1982 for his starring role in “Gandhi,” for which he won the Best Actor award in 1983.
He was born Krishna Bhanji on Dec. 31, 1943, in Snainton, North Yorkshire, England, to an Indian father and English mother.
He was offered a recording contract to be a singer/guitarist, but Kingsley’s passion for acting led him to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967.
Kingsley also garnered Oscar nominations for “Bugsy”, “Sexy Beast” and “House of Sand and Fog”.
He’s still alive and kicking.
Haing S. Ngor
Ngor, a Cambodian refugee and physician, received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of journalist Dith Pran in 1984’s “The Killing Fields”, which recounted the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.
The Oscar win gave Ngor a platform to say what he wanted about the regime, which took the lives of nearly 2 million Cambodians, including his wife, reported Vice.
Ngor also used his fame to financially support two clinics and a school in his home country.
Even though he was never trained in acting, Ngor went on to star in several movies and TV shows, including Oliver Stone’s “Between Heaven and Earth”.
Sadly, Ngor was reportedly gunned down in 1996 by three teenage Oriental Lazy Boyz gang members. While the trio were convicted for his murder, many people in Cambodia believe Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, ordered the actor’s assassination.
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