September 2021 was a month of a heightened sense of cultural globalization. Of course, I’m talking about the hyper-popularized South Korean Netflix show, Squid Game. It quickly became the most-watched show on Netflix, making history by becoming the number 1 show in the U.S and in more than 80 other countries. Although South Korean pop culture such as K-dramas and K-pop have long been on the rise, the past few years have shown tremendous growth in South Korean and other Asian entertainment industries. The 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) brought forth another historic win, especially for Asian actresses working in Hollywood and abroad – Squid Game’s star Jung Ho Yeon’s win for Best Female Actor in a Drama Series.
From the 2004 comedy Harold & Kumar’s John Cho and 2007 comedy Knocked Up’s Ken Jeong to 2010’s The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun, there has been a steady spotlight on Asian male actors over the past decade, although limited. However, the scene for Asian actresses has been less centralized, with 2005 ABC hit Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh as one example. However, in recent years, Hollywood and the TV industry have attempted to mitigate the racial and gender disparities by prompting Asian-centric films such as Constance Wu and Henry Golding’s Crazy Rich Asians or Lana Condor’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before in 2018, Awkwafina’s The Farewell in 2019, and Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh Jung’s Minari in 2020. Asian films have struggled to receive proper recognition in Hollywood, illustrated by Minari’s Best Foreign Language Film win last year at the Golden Globes, despite the movie starring an American-born director (Lee Issac Chung) with an inherently “American” plot of immigration and assimilation. Parasite’s 2020 Oscars Best Picture win and Squid Game’s recent numerous wins have demonstrated the steady change in perspectives on Asian pop culture. If, in the past, Asian-centric shows and films have been viewed as “alien” and “foreign,” many contents not directly produced by the U.S are now being embraced.
Jung’s win at SAG signals this cultural change in perspective; it highlights the intercultural aspect of all pop culture. It is arguably not much of an exaggeration to say that these wins have led Jung to be casted in the worldly renowned director, Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming TV series, Disclaimer, along with Hollywood’s big names like Cate Blanchett. If, in the past, actors needed to first star in Hollywood or American-centric films and shows to move up the entertainment industry, Jung shows that this may not be the case anymore – succeeding in any industry market can open up various opportunities to join Hollywood. Furthermore, this demonstrates that Hollywood may not be a necessity anymore in sparking a cultural phenomenon.
Jung’s win is just a starting point for other Asian actors and actresses starring in various films and shows that are less American-centric. As Parasite’s director, Bong Joon Ho, said in his Oscars acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” Likewise, once we overcome the myopia of Hollywood and American-centric pop culture, we will be introduced to a greater variety of actors and actresses acting their stories.
Cover image credit: Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images