Yuh-Jung Youn made history at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning Best Supporting Actress for her performance as the scene-stealing grandmother Soon-ja in “Minari.” This made Youn the first Asian actor of any gender to win an individual SAG Award for film, and now it launches her to frontrunner status at the Academy Awards. Should she win the Oscar, the legendary Korean actress would become only the second Asian woman to win an Oscar for acting, following Miyoshi Umeki for “Sayonara” (1957), and only the sixth person in history to win for a performance spoken primarily in a non-English language.
The first three actors to pull off an Oscar win for non-English performances — Sophia Loren for “Two Women” (1961), Robert De Niro for “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and Roberto Benigni for “Life Is Beautiful” (1998) — all primarily spoke Italian in their respective films. The next was Benicio del Toro for “Traffic” (2000), who spoke Spanish, while the most recent is Marion Cotillard, speaking French in “La Vie en Rose” (2007). While some would argue that Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008) and Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) belong on this list as well, both spoke a fair amount of English in their films, especially in comparison to the aforementioned five.
Youn and co-star Steven Yeun have already accomplished a huge milestone as the first actors to be nominated for Korean-language performances. The only other instance of an Oscar-nominated performance with any kind of Asian language as the primary expression was Rinko Kikuchi for “Babel” (2006), who communicated via Japanese Sign Language.
The SAG win proves that actors love Youn’s performance, and considering they’re the biggest branch of the academy, she has a significant advantage heading into Oscar night. She is the very clear favorite in Best Supporting Actress, according to our latest odds, with over twice as many people picking her over the actress in second place, Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”). Youn and Bakalova are also the only Oscar nominees up at this coming weekend’s BAFTA Awards, as Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”), Olivia Colman (“The Father”) and Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) were all snubbed. This is the only category that “Minari” is favored to win at the Oscars, and it would be a natural place to reward a film the academy loved enough to give six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
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