On Sunday night, Sandra Oh stood before a room full of Hollywood A-listers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the millions who watched the 76th Golden Globes from their living rooms, and acknowledged the magnitude of her role as the first Asian person to host a major U.S. awards show.
"I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change," she said. "And I'm not fooling myself, I'm not fooling myself. Next year could be different; it probably will be. But right now, this moment is real. Trust me, it is real. Because I see you. And I see you. All these faces of change. And now, so will everyone else."
Oh went on to win the award for Best Actress in a TV Drama for "Killing Eve" ― the first Asian woman to do so in almost 40 years. And in a heartfelt acceptance speech, the Canadian-Korean thanked her parents in Korean and bowed to them.
For many, "the moment is real," but is the change?
Oh's win and hosting gig comes on the heels of what has been referred to by some as the "Year of Diversity" in Hollywood, when the need for inclusion is being fiercely debated across the entertainment industry.
"Black Panther" and "Crazy Rich Asians" were heralded for breaking barriers with their all-black and all-Asian casts respectively. "Black Panther" made history by being the first superhero movie to feature a predominantly black cast. The critically acclaimed movie rounded out 2018 as the highest-grossing film in North America and the second-highest earner at the world box office, pulling in more than US$1 billion.
"Crazy Rich Asians" was the first major Hollywood production to have an all-Asian cast in 25 years, not seen since the "Joy Luck Club." The rom-com has earned more than $170 million in North America alone.
When both films hit multiplexes, audiences around the world saw a more diverse range of heroes, with Asians, black people, and women taking centre stage.
In 2016, films with casts featuring 21 per cent to 30 per cent minority actors had the highest median global box office ticket sales and the highest median return on investment.
In 2017, "Get Out" became the the highest grossing debut film based on an original screenplay. The movie, directed by African American director Jordan Peele, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
In spite of such strides, the films failed to garner any Golden Globe wins Sunday night.
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Year of diversity ... to be continued?
We asked folks of colour connected to Hollywood North about where the industry's at currently. Here's what they had to say:
"Hollywood is definitely more aware of the desire and demand for more diversity, and although the industry is still very white, films like 'Black Panther,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' and 'If Beale Street Could Talk' being commercially and critically successful are proving there is no excuse for a lack of diversity," said Sarbjit Kaur, President of Kaur Communications who's worked with The Toronto International Film and the Punjabi International Film Festival/International Film Festival of South Asia.
Some of the aforementioned films did pick up some wins on Sunday. Regina King took home a golden prize for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for "If Beale Street Could Talk" and Mahershala Ali won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for "Green Book."
Despite these wins, Dalton Higgins, a cultural commentator and PR strategist for entertainers, told HuffPost Canada that "The Year of Diversity" was not genuine, but a band-aid solution to a far greater problem.
"Knee-jerk responses to age-old issues tied to the lack of POCs [people of colour] in decision-making authority in the Hollywood system is not the way to go. And token gestures just don't cut it anymore. Supporting one more Black/Asian/South Asian/women producer on the scene is a bit patronizing and is not the panacea to the complicated set of problems that plagues award shows like the Golden Globes," said Higgins.
"It's almost like these institutions and structures need to be completely excavated, torn down, and built back up from scratch," he added.
PAUL SUN-HYUNG LEE
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who stars on "Kim's Convenience," told HuffPost Canada that he is more reservedly hopeful about Hollywood.
"The optimist inside of me wants so hard to say 'YES!' Hollywood is finally woke to the level of talent that has always been available and will now start reaping the benefits!" The pessimist says "NO, Hollywood is just jumping on something they feel is "trendy" and will move on to another socially popular hot-button topic once this is over." The realist thinks it's a product of Hollywood being woke to the monetary power of communities and audiences looking for diversity and willing to support said projects," said Lee.
"Sandra Oh said it herself that she didn't know how long this was going to last, if it was going to last at all," he added.
The Korean-Canadian actor acknowledged that the real test comes in whether or not Hollywood sustains and maintains this push for diversity and inclusivity not only in front of, but behind the cameras too.
"And seeing what types of projects are being done with diverse members: while having culturally specific stories being told is fantastic, I would hope that diverse actors wouldn't be limited to just being cast in those stories," said Lee. "Diversity and inclusivity means opening the door and making all types of stories available."
And Lee emphasized that winning awards doesn't always reflect the actual changes transpiring in Hollywood.
"At the end of the day, while it is of the utmost importance that diverse casts and storylines are represented, I don't think anyone should feel they should win anything just because a cast or storyline is diverse. It's incumbent upon the members of these projects to excel (which in both cases they did!) but that shouldn't automatically equal a win ... Awards are weird that way. In my opinion, it's an honour just to be nominated," said Lee.
But Tonya Williams, best known as Dr. Olivia Barber Winters on "The Young and the Restless," who now runs ReelWorld Film Festival, an annual film festival in Toronto that features talent from ethnically diverse communities, recognizes that changes takes time.
"Change is not linear ― there will be steps forward, there will be steps backward," she told HuffPost Canada. "I would say that last year was a positive indication ― it has taken us years to get that far and there will be years in the future where we will take steps backward, but, incrementally, I feel we are moving forward."
"We are never going to give up the fight to make sure we don't slip back and that we keep making those strides forward, but let's also appreciate the moments when they come... Sandra Oh was not just a talent we just saw coming out of the gate for the first time and that award was not just for that one role, but for the 20-plus years of outstanding work. I was able to see diverse stars sitting with their children who are now also stars in the industry (Denzel Washington and son John David, who both starred in the nominated Spike Lee film, "BlacKkKlansman.") ― legacies are being passed down, and that is tremendous."
"There is no way to see that and not think we have made strides," she said. "We still have a long way to go, but we are certainly not were we were just 10 years ago."
Watch "Study Shows A Huge Lack of Diversity in Hollywood." Story continues below.
The first black Oscar recipient went to Hattie McDaniel, who won in the Best Supporting Actress category in 1939 for "Gone with the Wind." The next win for a person of colour didn't come until 1963, when Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for "Lilies of the Field."
"Now we have people of colour usually accepting awards each year, so that has to be considered progress. Hollywood is embracing diversity, because, if for no other reason, it makes fiscal sense to do so," said Williams. "The two big hit box office movies were diverse and that's what Hollywood embraces: success at box office, more so than award wins."
"When I see the positive strides I've seen in UK and Australia over the past 15 years, I can't help but notice that we're lagging behind in Canada in regards to diversity. The landscape has changed a lot since I launched Reelworld in 2001. Back then people were offended that I used the term 'racially diverse' they wanted to use the word 'culturally diverse' instead ― I had to explain that the two words don't mean the same thing."
"People in Canada, especially in the industry, are so nervous about appearing racist that go out of their way to ignore what is happening around them in the hope that things will just magically go away without their input ― Reelworld has been a part of the education that has helped us all talk more freely about diversity in Canada."
Canadian actor Simu Liu who stars in "Kim's Convenience" agrees that the industry is making strides.
"We're doing just fine," Liu told HuffPost Canada. "There's always more work to be done, but we need to recognize the incredible year we just had. We have witnessed some truly landmark moments in Asian-American history.
"Hollywood exists to serve the people, and when the people send as loud a signal as they did with 'Black Panther' and 'Crazy Rich Asians' you can rest assured that Hollywood will adjust course."
"There will be greater recognition and celebration of Asian American stars when we ourselves in the community are more vocal about supporting them. As viewers and consumers we have the responsibility to vote with our wallets, as that will be the only true engine of change. We should be following and supporting not only the Henry Goldings but the Chris Pangs, Jimmy O'Yangs, Awkwafinas and Lana Condors; we should be proud of our community."
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