By Ed Diokno
Views from the Edge
Sandra Oh isn’t the only Asian to make history with her Emmy nomination as Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Japanese-born Hiro Murai added his name to the Asian American history books as well, with his nomination for the Emmy category of “Best Comedy Directing.” He is the second Asian American to be nominated for this honor.
Yet, all this recognition is bittersweet. It speaks to the lack of Asian American representation in Hollywood that every nomination is still deemed “historic.” Cary Fukunaga won an Emmy for directing True Detective in 2014.
The specific episode that Murai directed that drew the attention of the Television Academy was the utterly unforgettable (and claustrophobic) “Teddy Perkins” episode of the show, Atlanta.
Murai’s reputation as a talented director rose considerably this spring when Donald Glover’s music video as Childish Gambino was released. The shocking, “This is America” music video was just the latest collaboration Murai had with Glover. Besides directing several music videos for the artist, he also has directed multiple episodes for the Atlanta series.
Ironically, one of the other nominated directors is Glover, who won the directing Emmy last year — as the first African American to win that award.
It was Murai who helped make Atlanta “the most acclaimed comedy series on television, greatly contributing to its signature style and tone and becoming an integral part of the creative team led by Donald Glover,” said Nick Grad, original programming president for FX Networks and FX Productions.
The scarcity of Asian Americans on the nomination list is not lost on Murai.
“When we were in the room for the Golden Globes, I look around and it’s just me and Alan Yang,” he told GQ. “And obviously that’s very odd.”
Besides Oh and Murai, Filipino American actor Darren Criss was also nominated for portrayal of Andrew Cunanan, in “American Crime Story.”
“Regardless of awards season, this is an opportunity that I have worked and waited for my entire life. Actors are really only as good as the parts they can get, and the people that believe in them, and the complexity of the characters that they’re playing,” said Criss.
Criss points out the reason there aren’t more Asian American actors, directors and writers receiving Emmy nominations. It’s not a question of talent; it’s the lack of opportunities to display that talent.
One recent study by AAPIs on TV titled, “Tokens on the Small Screen,” shows that despite the emergence of “Fresh Off the Boat”, “Master of None” and “Into the Badlands” (a handful of shows featuring Asian Americans in lead roles), Asian Americans are still relegated to what the study calls “token” roles — or the only Asian in a show’s cast.
Oh and Criss are the rare exceptions as Asian American actors playing complicated, three-dimensional characters.
Yet when asked about the significance of her Emmy nomination, Canadian-born Oh told the New York Times: “Let’s celebrate it, man. I’m serious, just [expletive] celebrate it. It’s like, we’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m happy to get that ball rolling, because what I hope happens is that next year and the next year and the next year, we will have presence. And the presence will grow not only to Asian Americans, you know, from yellow to brown, but to all our other sisters and brothers. Our First Nations sisters and brothers. Our sisters and brothers of different sizes and different shapes. If I can be a part of that change, like [expletive], yeah, let’s celebrate it.”
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