Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

why sandra oh's speech at the golden globes meant so much to me

The 'Killing Eve' actress made me realize that as she's said, "it's an honor just to be Asian."

by Diane Paik
08 January 2019, 9:42pm

Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

I needed a whole day to process what I witnessed during Sunday night’s 76th Golden Globe Awards. A whole day to soak in the impact of a handful of brilliant remarks and one outstanding moment. A whole day to try to compact a lifetime of feelings into a traceable, yet complex thought.

I try to watch most of the shows during awards season. Regardless of the deeply entrenched opinions you may have about awards and ceremonies, it’s pretty spectacular when you witness moments like the Moonlight win, or more frequently, when history (disappointingly) repeats itself (#OscarsSoWhite). I also base my participation on who’s hosting. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, hell yeah I’m watching. Billy Crystal for the n-teenth time? I’ll watch the last 20 minutes. But this year, I had one clear reason that the Globes was mandatory viewing — Sandra motherfucking Oh. The woman with enough charisma in one expressive eyebrow was co-hosting the evening with an unproblematic fave, Andy Samberg.

The Globes opened with the Nicest People in Show Business™ going through a monologue full of compliments for their colleagues as well as pointed jabs at their industry. When the Killing Eve actress quipped about our community, with the Asian moms being impossible to impress bit, it felt like an inside joke instead of a harsh stereotype. You only get to pull these off when the person making the joke is in on it too. But I started crumbling when she took a moment of gratitude and reflected on the “faces of change.” It was there that she addressed what we were all seeing — look, a Korean woman hosting the Golden Globes. This distinction is worthy of pause.

As a fellow Korean woman, I am a lifetime cardholder of the “Sandra Oh Fan Club.” I am the President, Vice President, Secretary, Director of Recruitment, and intern. When I first met her as the formidable Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy, I was floored. I am currently on a rerun marathon of the medical drama and every episode I am falling more in love in her.

Here’s the thing, Sandra Oh is not new to the game. She’s had a decades long career, but it’s only now that we are finally seeing her as a leading actress. Even she admits to being so brainwashed from the beatdown of the industry that she nearly forgot her worth. Sandra Oh made history that night. To see her not only as the first person of Asian descent to host a major awards ceremony, but to be the second ever Asian performer to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Drama Series, is a win for us all. These superlatives are supremely disappointing considering all these firsts in 2019, but someone has to don them.

When you have such a small pool of people in media and entertainment that look like you, can speak the same language as you, and heritage as you, you can’t help but to have stake in them. Unfortunately for people of color and other disenfranchised communities, one represents all. If one fails, we all fail. A second chance is hard to come by. This pressure and burden is an unfortunate circumstance, but the reality for right now. When I saw Sandra Oh glowing on that stage at the Beverly Hilton hotel, I beamed as if I was seeing my sister or cousin up there. I felt nerves and found myself with clammy hands during her appearances throughout the night.

When Sandra Oh started off the show with an enthusiastic and almost smug, “Welcome to the 2019 Golden Globe Awards,” I shivered.

When Sandra “It’s an honor just to be Asian” Oh made a jab at Ghost in the Shell and Aloha for whitewashing Asian roles, I peed a little.

When Sandra Oh My God We Must Protect Her At All Costs spoke in Korean to thank her parents then gave a respectful bow, I cried a lot. Hearing her tremble, “Mom, Dad, I love you” in Korean made me squeal with excitement and exclaim, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I just heard Korean on the Golden Globes.”

While a lot of focus has been on Timmy and his Off-White harness or the Fiji water girl, I urge viewers to remember moments like this that make the excruciating three plus hours of an egregious applause ceremony worth it. I know it’s a lot of bullshit, but when you get to see people like Barry Jenkins, Indya Moore, and Sandra Oh nominated and sitting amongst the predictable, it’s so very important. Time and time again we see the importance in representation. There is still a long way to go, but we are starting to see a bit more of us reflected in TV, film, and government. If we don’t pay attention to the moments where change is happening, aren’t we just living in a world of cynicism and ignorance? These are the people deserving of recognition, their work a beacon of hope in an eternity of sameness.

Turns out I have a lot of feelings about this year’s Golden Globes, and the main takeaway is that it really is an honor just to be Asian.

Sandra Oh
asian identity
The Golden Globes