Sandra Oh on Racism in the TV Industry: 'Not Only Is Shit Hard, It's Extremely Unfair'


The luminous Sandra Oh has been doing smaller projects since her exit from Grey’s Anatomy four years ago, before suddenly appearing everywhere on posters for her new show, Killing Eve. The dramatic thriller was created by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and renewed for a second season before the first episode even aired.

In an interview with Vulture’s E. Alex Jung, Oh described in almost poetic terms the search for the right project. She has opportunities and the option to say “no” to work, she says, but still grapples with measuring her career against others and the challenges of staying creative. Also, racism:

Yes, because you know what, not only is shit hard, it’s extremely unfair. And racism exists. Let’s start there. I felt it, and I have felt it deeply. And I’m extremely fortunate. So I’m not going to not say that it’s not there, because it is.
But it’s changing the mindset that being an actor of color, person of color, that you’re at a disadvantage in the creative life. That you don’t have opportunity. It’s all how you see the opportunity. And the clearer and deeper you get into what you really want, you just become a better artist. If that’s what you really want — becoming a better artist — does that include access? Does that include having 5 billion Instagram followers? I don’t know. That’s for you to decide. But if what you want is to connect, if what you want is to be a great artist, I think you can find your way. Even within this giant paradigm that a lot of times doesn’t include people who look like us.

Jung, who’s Korean-American, talked to Oh about the challenges of defining a path for oneself with very little representation in media of what that path can be. To that point, Oh shared a devastating anecdote about receiving the script for Killing Eve and not realizing she was being offered the lead role:

One thing I will share with you — when I got the script for Killing Eve, I remember I was walking around in Brooklyn and I was on my phone with my agent, Nancy. I was quickly scrolling down the script, and I can’t really tell you what I was looking for. So I’m like, “So Nancy, I don’t understand, what’s the part?” And Nancy goes “Sweetheart, it’s Eve, it’s Eve.” In that moment, I did not assume the offer was for Eve. I think about that moment a lot. Of just going, how deep have I internalized this? [So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, “Oh my god! They brainwashed me!” I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.

Jung added that Asian-Americans rarely see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, and Oh agreed, describing the overwhelming experience of seeing Joy Luck Club in the mid-nineties with her friend and collaborator Mina Shum. The two wept through the film in a way Oh thinks had more to do with their feelings about seeing Asian women onscreen than the movie itself:

Our experience was much bigger than what was being called for. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of how deeply we need to see ourselves represented. And how it’s not just leaving the images to the outside voices. It’s finding it within ourselves.

Read the full interview here.

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