Killing Eve star Sandra Oh has talked about the UK being “behind” when it comes to diversity on TV production sets.
Sandra Oh is the Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor best known for her roles in Killing Eve and Grey’s Anatomy. So huge is her career success that, in 2019, Time magazine named Oh as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
But Oh has just discussed the fact that, after more than 20 years in the industry, she is “totally used to” being the only Asian person on TV sets.
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The actor has starred in three series of Killing Eve and spent a lot of time in England during filming. Speaking to Little Fires Everywhere actor Kerry Washington for Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Oh was asked how it feels to be the only Asian woman on set.
“Well, that I’m totally used to,” she replied. “Being the sole Asian person is a very familiar place for me. The UK, I’m not afraid to say, is behind. I’m not only the only Asian person on set –sometimes it changes, very exciting when someone comes on set.”
She continued: “The development of people behind the camera is very slow in the UK. I don’t know about the rest of Europe. Sometimes it would be me and 75 white people and I have not come from that.
“I have not come from that in my film career, which has been much more independent. Mostly working with women and women of colour and my relationship with television – and in the United States – hasn’t necessarily been all white.”
She added: “I’ve got to tell you. Even more than that, I think being the only American on that set, in Europe, informed me more than the physicality. I’ve not even really talked about this, but there is something about constantly feeling like the observer or the outsider.”
“I feel like Eve speaks slightly different than I speak. I feel like it’s the American who has settled in the UK for 15 years. A lot of my friends, who mostly are Canadian, who have been settled there for 20 years, they actually strangely have this weird kind of Scottish-y accent.”
People on Twitter have echoed the importance of Oh’s words.
Actor Precious Mustapha said: “Sandra Oh saying how backwards the UK is on and off screen is all to real and very embarrassing. This is why we run off to America.
“No black person has ever done my hair on set. No black person has ever done my makeup. No black person in the costume department. I ain’t even seen a black person hold a flippin camera. When it come to ‘diversity’ in the TV/film industry the UK is a disgrace.”
And PR consultant Ronke Lawal tweeted: “Sandra Oh touching on her experience of being surrounded by a predominantly white team while working in the UK, which many Black and Asian creatives based in the UK know all too well and why more than a few leave this country.”
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The BBC recently announced a commitment to invest £100m into increasing diversity on TV. The pledge comes after setting itself a mandatory target: 20% of off-screen talent must come from under-represented groups. That includes those with a disability or from a BAME or disadvantaged socio-economic background.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…