'Minari' star Steven Yeun could become first Asian American Best Actor nominee

Yeun’s performance as Jacob, a Korean father who brings his family to start a farm in the 1980s, has been critically acclaimed.

Lee Isaac Chung,Steven Yeun
Director Lee Isaac Chung, left, and Steven Yeun pose for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" during the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah.Taylor Jewell / Invision/AP

The Oscars best actor race has continued to fill up with an abundance of talent as A24 has confirmed that Steven Yeun will campaign as a lead actor for his performance in “Minari.”

Along with Yeun, co-star Yeri Han will also campaign for best actress, while his cast mates Alan S. Kim, Will Patton and Yuh-Jung Youn will look for consideration in the supporting categories.

Asian representation in the acting categories has been one of the ugliest stains in the Academy’s long history. If nominated for best actor, Yeun would be the first Asian American to ever be recognized in the category. Yul Brynner, of Mongol descent, won best actor for 1956’s “The King and I,” while Ben Kingsley, who is half Indian, won best actor for 1982’s “Gandhi,” which took home best picture. Kingsley was also nominated for 2003’s “House of Sand and Fog.”

Yeun’s performance as Jacob, a Korean father who brings his family to start a farm in the 1980s, has been critically acclaimed after screening at the Sundance and Middleburg film festivals, where it won the audience awards at both. He generated awards buzz in 2018 for the South Korean film “Burning,” for which he won the LAFCA award for best supporting actor.

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the film has not yet been given an official release date. Sources close to the film have said there are plans to release the movie before the end of the 2020 calendar year. This would keep the film eligible to receive awards from the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, who are keeping the Dec. 31 movie release deadline.

Han’s turn as Monica, Jacob’s wife, is undeniably rich but has very stiff competition in a competitive lead actress field. To date, only Merle Oberon, who was part Indian and Maori, has been nominated for best actress for 1935’s “The Dark Angel.” There have been just two Asian-descent winners in the supporting categories — Haing S. Ngor in 1984’s “The Killing Fields” and Miyoshi Umeki in 1957’s “Sayonara.” Alan S. Kim, who at 8-years-old could be the second youngest actor nominated in the supporting category, and Yuh-Jung Youn will compete to join that list.

It is also important to note that if any of the “Minari” actors are nominated, it will be the first time the Academy has nominated any Korean performers in an acting category.

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