The Korean legend follows in the footsteps of Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki, who won the same category for her performance in “Sayonara” (1957). Youn was the first supporting actress nominee of Asian descent since Hailee Steinfeld, who is of Filipino descent, contested for 2010’s “True Grit.”
No woman of Asian descent has won Best Actress and only one has been nominated: Merle Oberon, who was of Indian descent and hid her background during her career, for “The Dark Angel” (1935). Including the men, Best Supporting Actor winner Haing S. Ngor (1984’s “The Killing Fields”) is the last man of Asian descent to win either male category; Ben Kingsley (1982’s “Gandhi”) was the last in Best Actor.
Along with her “Minari” co-star Steve Yeun, who’s the first Asian-American Best Actor nominee, Youn and Yeun are the first acting nominees of Korean descent in the 93-year history of Oscars, which have repeatedly overlooked Asian performers in general. With Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), who is of Pakistani descent, also shortlisted in Best Actor, this year was the first time three Asian performers have been nominated concurrently.
After winning the Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA, Youn became the supporting actress frontrunner for her scene-stealing turn as Grandma Soon-ja in Lee Isaac Chung’s intimate semi-autobiographical drama. She is the sixth person to win for a performance that’s primarily in a non-English language (Korean) and the first to win for an Asian language.
At 73, Youn is also now the third oldest winner in the category, behind Peggy Ashcroft, who was 77 when she won for “A Passage to India” (1984) and Josephine Hull, who was 74 when she prevailed for “Harvey” (1950).
Youn defeated Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”), Olivia Colman (“The Father”) and Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”).
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