Ke Huy Quan this year became just the second Asian man to win an Academy Award for best actor.
The first Asian man to receive the Best Supporting Actor Award was Dr. Haing Somnang Ngor—an actor, a gynecologist, and a Cambodian genocide survivor—for his role in the 1984 film The Killing Fields. The movie is about the Khmer Rouge, the totalitarian and oppressive Cambodian regime that was responsible for the Cambodian genocide; it is also based on a true story about a photojournalist named Dith Pran, who is played by Ngor.
Ngor was born in Samrong Yong, Cambodia in 1940 in a Chinese Khmer family. He studied to become an obstetrician and gynecologist, and in medical school, he met his wife whose name was Chang My Huoy. Ngor outlived the four-year genocide and narrowly survived three terms in Cambodian internment camps. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Ngor “worked as a doctor in Thailand” and then moved to the US.
In 1984, he began his acting career as Dith Pan in The Killing Fields, for which he received an Academy Award—despite not having any previous acting experience before the aforementioned role. During his lifetime that was unfortunately cut short, Ngor not only an Asian American trailblazer as an actor, but also an inspiring figure because of his humanitarian efforts to aid Cambodians.
Sadly, on Feb 25th, 1996, Ngor was “shot and killed outside his downtown LA Chinatown home”. The suspects were three men who were part of the West Side Oriental Lazy Boyz gang. The gang, known as just the Oriental Lazy Boyz, comprises mainly young Cambodian men living in Los Angeles. Allegedly, Ngor was killed after he refused to give his deceased wife’s necklace to the three gang robbers.
Although the three men were put on trial for his death, many individuals in the Cambodian community speculate that his murder was orchestrated by Cambodian’s then-dictator Pol Pot because of Ngor’s outspokenness about the communist Cambodian regime. Kang Kang Iew, or “Comrade Dutch”—a leader in the Khmer Rouge movement and a convicted war criminal—spoke to multiple sources saying that “Ngor’s death was an assassination … because he appeared in the film The Killing Fields’”.
These claims have been refuted by US officials. Ngor’s own niece Sophia believes that the people responsible for the killing were the three gang robbers. While it is unfortunate that Ngor’s life was unexpectedly and unfairly cut short, his legacy in both acting and philanthropy continues to inspire many in the Asian American community.
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