Friday, September 07, 2007

Miyoshi Umeki (1929-2007)

Miyoshi Umeki, the first (and only) Asian actress to win an Oscar died last week from cancer. Her Oscar arrived once she played opposite Marlon Brando in Sayonara (1957) --Brando was a good luck Oscar charm for a lot of other actors wasn't he? Miyoshi won her Oscar in late March and was on the cover of TIME for her work in Broadway's Flower Drum Song by December. Quite a year she had in '58, huh?

Discussions of Oscar and ethnicity go way back but they usually focus, rather simplistically, on the black & white topic. Since Umeki's Oscar win I believe only four actresses of Asian descent have made the Oscar shortlist: Shohreh Aghdashloo (03), The Tilly sisters (a decade apart in 85 and 94), and Rinko Kikuchi just last year. And they're all in the supporting category [src]

There've been more men. But unless I'm forgetting someone and apart from arguably Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) no major Asian movie stars have ever been nominated for an Oscar. Most of the nominees have not been particularly famous prior to their honors. In other words there's no Tony Leungs, Gong Lis, Toshirô Mifunes, Aishwarya Rais or Maggie Cheungs in Oscar's history book.

16 comments:

Michael Parsons said...

Hang S. Ngor for the Killing Fields

Michael Parsons said...

And Pat Moriata - The Karate Kid, both in the same year

NATHANIEL R said...

right but they weren't big stars before the nominations

J.D. said...

And isn't kind of weird/sad that none of those are from non-Western productions?

Neel Mehta said...

Welcome to my world.

Jimmy said...

....sigh...."Mr. Eddie's father"....sayonora.

Joshua said...

I think you're forgetting a pretty big Asian star to win an Oscar - Yul Brynner. If I remember correctly, he was Mongolian, though he won for playing a Thai (Siamese then. Whatever). And I think it's safe to say that he was at least a "star", if not a "big star" for his Broadway turn in the same role. So . . . that's something.

J.D. said...

According to his IMDb biography, Brynner's father was a Swiss-Russian engineer and his mother the daughter of a Russian doctor.

Anonymous said...

Ben Kingsley is half-Indian, if that counts for anything here.

Adam Luis said...

I think the issue Nate is trying to point out is that there has never been a bonafide Asian movie star that can be immediately identified with their ethnicity to win the Oscar (as politically incorrect as that sounds). In the public consciousness, Ben Kingsley is very much a British star. Yul Brynner admitted to fudging stories of his ethnicity to appear more "exotic."

- Adam

NATHANIEL R said...

well actually the larger point i was trying to make was that the non-western movie stars don't get nominated.

I mean TONY LEUNG, MAGGIE CHEUNG, GONG LI, etc.. these are world class actors who've been awarded elsewhere but Oscar only notices asian actors in western films and then they're usually unknowns. Whereas European superstars can ride that international acclaim occassionally into Oscar graces --even in films from their home countries. It doesn't seem to happen for Asian actors.

NATHANIEL R said...

i just think the discrepancy is there

Adam Luis said...

Then again that can also be said for Latin American movie stars. Fernanda Montenegra is the only one who's been able to do it.

Ken said...

Hopefully, Ziyi Zhang will change this!

CanadianKen said...

I've always thought Nancy Kwan was robbed of a nomination for "The World of Suzie Wong". And - of course - there's Gong Li,heart of the memorable Chinese film "Raise the Red Lantern" and the main (and electrifying) point of ineterest in "Memoirs of a Geisha". I'd have given supporting nominations to Philip Ahn in "Thank You Mr.Moto"(1937) and to the wonderful Victor Sen Yung in "The Letter"(1940). Also, it's a shame Western audiences haven't been exposed to some of today's great Bollywood stars - charismatic and brimming with talent - Akshaye Khanna, for instance and Rani Mukherjee. Who knows? It might happen yet. Aishwarya Rai has at least created a profile for herself in non-western cinema. But so far her choices have not been fortunate. Still wish she'd accepted the role of Helen in Wolfgang Petersen's Brad Pitt/Orlando Bloom starrer "Troy". It was purportedly offered to her. I loved the movie anyway - but casting Aishwarya as the Face That Launched a Thousand Ships would have been the icing on the cake.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Getting off the topic, here's a shout out to Time's other lovely cover girl, Pat Suzuki. I have the Flower Drum original cast record and CD largely due to Suzuki's wonderful vocalizing. Don't know if she ever made a movie, or what really became of her after this breakthrough.