2021 Emmy Awards: 8 Asians Who Made History at Prestigious TV Event



Riz Ahmed is the first Asian and the first Muslim to win an Acting Emmy (Photo: Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic)
By Jianne Soriano

By Jianne Soriano

July 21, 2021

From Sandra Oh to Riz Ahmed and Shohreh Aghdashloo, here are the Asian actors and actresses who made history at the Emmy Awards

The fact that this list is easily summarized shows that Asians are still under-represented on television in the West. While we recently saw the Most Diverse Roaster at the Oscars with Chloe Zhao and Youn Yuh-jung, there is still a long way to go.

With the recent Emmy nominations, this has once again highlighted the lack of representation on television. This is not for the sake of approval but for the recognition of the talented actresses, actors and creators who put their passion into the craft as well as the current and future generation, growing up to see faces that look like them on screen, knowing their stories and experiences are highlighted.

We focused on the Asians who have made history at the Emmy Awards over the years.

See Also: 2021 Emmys: SNL’s Bowen Yang Makes History


  • Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Grey’s Anatomy)
  • Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series (Kill Eve)
  • Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Saturday Night Live)
  • Outstanding Variety Special, Live (76th Gloden Globe Awards)

Sandra Oh is no stranger to history when she gets an acting wink or wins the award. She is the first actress of Asian origin to be nominated for lead actress in a drama series category at the Emmy Awards. Beyond that, she is also the first Asian-Canadian woman to welcome Saturday Night Live and just the third Asian actress to do so. She is also the first Asian woman to win two Golden Globes.

Oh is best known for her role as Cristina Yang in the hit medical series, Grey’s Anatomy which earned her an actress nomination at the Emmy Awards. But her role as Eve Polastri in the spy thriller, Kill Eve, was critically acclaimed, earning her a nomination as a lead actress.

See Also: Steven Yeun Makes Oscar History As First Nominee For Best Asian American Actor


  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Saturday Night Live)

Bowen Yang also made history by officially joining the cast of Saturday Night Live after a year of writing. He made history again as the first Chinese-American actor to be nominated for a lead actor category (not as a guest star). He is also the first star player (an actor who joined for two seasons) in SNL history to be nominated for an Emmy.


  • Outstanding actor in a limited series or film (The night of) – Won
  • Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Girls)

Riz Ahmed has a stunning acting portfolio – the first Asian and the first Muslim to win an Acting Emmy for The night of, he followed this as the first Muslim actor to win a Best Actor Oscar nomination for The sound of metal. Ahmed first started with independent films and eventually got his big breakthrough in Somnambulist (2014).

Since then he has appeared in Hollywood blockbusters such as Jason bourne (2016) and Thief one (2016).

See also: Oscars 2021: 11 nominated films to watch on Netflix


  • Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Mr. Robot)

Long before BD Wong made history as the first Chinese-American actor to receive an Emmy nomination as a guest actor in a drama series for Mr. Robot, he also wrote his name in the history books when he won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Song Liling in Mr. Butterfly. But that’s not enough: Wong is the only actor in Broadway history to have received multiple awards, including the Drama Desk Award for the same role.

Wong also did voiceover work like that of Captain Li Shang from the Disney animated film, Mulan.


  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Master of None)
  • Outstanding writing for a comedy series (Master of None) – Won with Alan Yang
  • Best Director for a Comedy Series

Aziz Ansari made history as the first American Indian and Asian American to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor and with his Emmy victory as a writer for Master of None, that makes him one of the few Asian actors to win a writing award. As for his nomination as a lead actor, he is the first South Asian to be nominated for a lead role.

Ansari is best known for his role in Parks and recreation like Tom Haverford in addition to Master of None.

See also: Cannes 2021: Julia Ducournau is only the second female director to win the Palme d’Or


  • Original music and exceptional lyrics (This timeJoy)
  • Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie (The Assassination of Gianna Versace: American Crime Story) – Won

Darren Criss is perhaps best known for his role as Blaine Anderson in Joy, he then received a nomination for writing the song, This time, which is one of the few original songs in the series. He was then cast as Andrew Cunanan in the second season of American crime story where his performance earned him rave reviews from critics.

He became the first American actor of Filipino descent to win an acting award at the Emmy Awards. The same role earned him a Golden Globe Award.


  • Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (The good woman) – Won

Beyond making history as the very first Asian to win an Emmy for playing for The good woman, Archie Panjabi has several other awards to his credit, including the Chopard Trophy at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. For The good woman, she has been nominated three times and won in 2010.

Panjabi has served in various roles in UK and US including Life on Mars, East is East and Yasmine.

See Also: 12 Asian Actresses Who Do It Right In Hollywood And Why It Matters Today


  • Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Film (Saddam’s house)

Shohreh Aghdashloo received acclaim for her 1977 film, The report, as good as Broken Heart (1978) and went on to take on roles in films such as Twenty dollars (1993), Survive in paradise (2000) and Maryam. (2002). She ultimately made history by becoming the first female Irienne to win an Emmy Award for Saddam’s house and earn an Oscar nomination for House of Sand and Fog.

Aghdashloo started out as a stage actress, then made her film debut in the United States Guests of the Hotel Astoria (1989), since then a series of critically acclaimed roles have followed.

See Also: Michelle Yeoh Is Fierce In New ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ Poster, Plus Full ‘Snake Eyes’ Trailer


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