The Golden Globes have long had a reputation for being Hollywood’s most rollicking awards show, but Sunday evening’s proceedings began with a tender moment of reflection amid the romp and the revelry. “I said yes to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here, to look out onto this audience and witness this moment of change,” the Killing Eve star Sandra Oh said as she closed out the opening monologue alongside her co-host, the comedian Andy Samberg. Given the historical whiteness of the industry—and the ceremony—she was acknowledging the significance of nominated works created by and starring people of color, including If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and Roma.
Oh’s voice shook as the actor concluded her expression of gratitude: “I’m not fooling myself. Next year could be different and probably will be. But right now, this moment is real.” The first person of Asian descent ever to host the Globes, Oh also shouted out the earning power of Crazy Rich Asians, joked about Asian moms being difficult to impress, and directed the cameras to focus on her own (beaming) mother in the audience. The speech was undeniably moving, even for those who’ve grown accustomed to viewing the industry’s glitzy gatherings with cynicism. And it was no surprise that Oh, with her preternatural talent and warm insight, offered the night’s first—and most profound—moment of inspiration.
Later in the ceremony, after winning her own Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Drama Series, Oh again embraced sincerity, nodding to her parents. “There are two people here tonight that I’m so grateful that they’re here with me. I’d like to thank my mother and my father,” she said tearily before addressing them in Korean: “Mom, Dad, I love you.” Oh’s words, which came after Regina King’s powerful acceptance of a trophy for her role in Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, felt like another breath of fresh air. The Golden Globe was Oh’s first (and only the second win for any Asian performer) in that category. The significance of this distinction was not lost on the actor, and she continued to radiate a steady charm throughout the evening.
Prior to the shift to earnestness, Samberg and Oh’s opening monologue had traded in multiple joking (and, in Samberg’s case, often self-effacing) references to Hollywood’s many humorous moments of the past year, as well as to its well-documented, and ongoing, struggle with diversity. “You know what race of people really gets under my skin?” Samberg quipped before winkingly answering his own question. “The Hollywood Half Marathon. Cause it messes up all the traffic, you know?” The punch line was likely intended as a moment of exhalation (Get it? He’s not racist! Or otherwise offensive, like some other would-be awards-show hosts!). Still, the joke was a tonally awkward way to kick off the evening. Following another long year of stilted reckoning in the entertainment world—with regard to racial diversity, as well as gender discrimination and sexual misconduct—these sorts of jokes felt unearned in the way that Hollywood’s rush to mock its own faults often can be.
But many of Oh’s lines in particular felt like lived-in callbacks to the now-sloganified phrase she offered as part of a skit during last year’s Emmys: “It’s an honor just to be Asian.” (Especially following the actor’s Golden Globe win, the line feels particularly cheeky.) She took aim at the trend of whitewashing in a pointed joke about Crazy Rich Asians, calling the blockbuster “the first studio film with an Asian American lead since Ghost in the Shell and Aloha.” Emma Stone, who drew ire for playing a character of Chinese descent in the latter film, shouted “I’m sorry!” from the audience in a moment of either contrition or quirky PR.
Fortunately, Oh’s awards-night charisma never felt gimmicky. The host’s shout-out to the “faces of change” in the audience cut through the politesse of Hollywood’s most common references to its own structural barriers. Oh herself is all too familiar with the reality of those obstacles: Though the Korean-Canadian veteran of Grey’s Anatomy has been acting for three decades, it was only last year that she landed a lead role.
As the titular character in the Phoebe Waller-Bridge–led BBC America drama Killing Eve, Oh is brilliant, frustrating, and deliciously complicated. The British intelligence agent Eve Polastri is the kind of role Asian actors are rarely granted, no matter how talented or experienced they may be. “It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers,” Oh told Vulture’s E. Alex Jung last year, speaking of the moment when she was offered the part—and didn’t realize she was up for the lead. “After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, Oh my God! They brainwashed me! I was brainwashed!”
In her affirmation of the other actors of color in the room (and by extension, the diverse audiences watching from home), Oh directly pushed back against that kind of implicit indoctrination with a simple antidote: recognition. It’s a small thing, but an important note in an entertainment climate where productions such as Killing Eve, as well as the much-lauded Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther, are exceptions.
Oh’s comments throughout the early parts of the show didn’t posit an end point to the work of transforming Hollywood’s deep, systemic biases. She didn’t congratulate the industry for accomplishing more than it has attempted to fix. She simply acknowledged the fact that any tangible shifts that have happened—and any that are yet to come—have been spearheaded by those whom Hollywood has historically denied substantive opportunities. That determination isn’t new, but it certainly is real.