TV & Movies

Sandra Oh's Real Win? Making Her #ImmigrantParents Proud

It took 30 years, a leading role, a massive billboard and a historic Emmy nomination—and as a Chinese-Canadian born to immigrant parents, I get it

Sandra Oh in a garnet satin deep-v down

(Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

Sandra Oh made history this year as the first actress of Asian descent to receive an Emmy nomination for a lead role in a drama. Her portrayal of Killing Eve’s Eve Polastri, a bored M15 operative who becomes obsessed with hunting down a psychotic assassin, is particularly monumental not only because the show cast an Asian actor as the lead, but also because the character of Polastri was originally white in the book series upon which the show is based.

And while Oh didn’t take home the coveted golden statue, she picked up a pretty major win on the road to the 2018 Emmy Awards: *finally* making her immigrant parents proud.

Days before the April premiere of Killing Eve, the Korean Canadian actress shared an Instagram photo of her parents, Oh Junsu (John) and Jeon Young-nam, standing proudly in front of a billboard for the show with their daughter’s face front and centre. “Proud #immigrantparents Just took me 30 yrs…,” Oh captioned the post.

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Proud #immigrantparents Just took me 30 yrs…

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She later explained to Vanity Fair that getting her parents’ approval as an actress wasn’t an easy road, especially with a lawyer sister and geneticist brother. She told the publication she practically had to achieve billboard-sized fame in order to prove herself as an artist. “Koreans are ambitious, man,” she said. “It means a lot to my parents that I do the work that I do and it has the visibility.”

Her parents’ pride was even more evident on the Emmy Awards red carpet, with Sandra bringing both as her dates (Mrs. Oh wearing a pink and white hanbok, a traditional Korean dress, while Mr. Oh looked dapper in a black tux). Mr. and Mrs. Oh even made a small cameo during Sandra’s red carpet interview with Variety.

“How proud are you?” the reporter asked Mrs. Oh.

“Oh, very much. I’m so proud of her,” she responded, while her husband beamed in the background. She then gave her daughter a kiss on the cheek, to which Sandra exclaimed, “Oh my God! That happened on film!”

This moment may seem normal to some, but as a Chinese-Canadian born to immigrant parents, I could see and feel how much it meant to Sandra to have her parents so publicly express their pride and affection, especially for her work in an artistic field.

Watching the video, I couldn’t help but tear up. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to make my parents, particularly my Hong Kong-born father, proud. Growing up, I often felt that everything I did wasn’t good enough. If I got a 95% on a test, my dad would ask me why I didn’t get 100—typical feedback Asian parents have become known for (yes, this really did happen). And when I decided to choose a more artistic route than my engineer sisters, he was less than thrilled, scoffing at my decision to be a fashion journalist and my choice of school. To him, Ryerson University was still a ‘polytechnic institute’ as its name had once been, and not at the same calibre of my sisters’ alma maters—Queen’s University, University of Toronto and University of Waterloo.

Even after I graduated and started working at reputable publications, he always reminded me these outlets were not the New York Times and advised me to read more NYT articles so I could get my writing to its level. Because of this, I felt he considered my work to be “fluff” and I never really had the guts to share my writing with him—at least in the earlier days of my career—for fear that he would diminish any pride I had in what I produced. I realize now that my dad’s actions were not so much evidence of his disapproval, but instead his way of pushing me to be the best I could be, but it’s hard to let go of all the criticism I internalized as a child and teen.

It wasn’t until quite recently that my dad truly expressed how impressed he was with my work. A few weeks ago, I wrote a FLARE essay on exactly what the film Crazy Rich Asians meant to me, and after some hesitation, I finally decided to send it to him. Up until that point, I had shared other writing of mine with him, to semi-decent responses… usually “good work” or “OK” but never anything really gushing. His response to the FLARE essay—“Wow. Send to your sisters and nephews and tell them Papa said it’s a must-read among family”—meant more to me than receiving praise from Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan (though tbh, that was pretty awesome, too). After hearing my dad’s reaction, I broke down into tears of joy and felt like, “Wow. I finally made it.”

For Sandra, I imagine it’s the same sort of feeling. In that red carpet Variety interview, the reporter asked the actor what “little Sandra” would think about of what adult Sandra was experiencing at the moment.

“That it happened,” she responded, with tears in her eyes.

It happened. After 30 years, she finally felt like she made her parents proud. And that, right there, is the real win.


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