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JENEÉ OSTERHELDT | COMMENTARY

Sandra Oh’s SAG speech was a master class in intersectionality

Sandra Oh accepted the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series onstage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Sandra Oh accepted the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series onstage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Turner)

“We fight the same fight.”

These are words Alfre Woodard whispered in Sandra Oh’s ear in 1997, telling her how proud she was of the actress. They are words that have carried her for 22 years.

On Sunday night, as Oh stood onstage accepting her Screen Actors Guild Award for best female actor in a drama series for “Killing Eve,” she recounted how Jamie Foxx pulled her aside in 2006 and told her, “Keep going.” And how, in 2017, Lena Waithe embraced her and said, “You already won. It’s in the work.”

It wasn’t just a speech worthy of a good ugly cry. It was a lesson in intersectionality. There is space for everyone. It’s not easy to make. It’s hard, uncomfortable work that requires a movement like Time’s Up and inclusion riders and solidarity and sacrifice.

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But creating space can be done and done well when we recognize the way our wins and losses overlap with other communities.

As Woodard, Foxx, and Waithe were taking their wins, they were holding space for other black people, other black women, other LGBTQ people. And they were making space for Sandra Oh, too.

They knew that Oh, a Korean-Canadian woman born to immigrant parents, was caught in the same system of oppression as they were.

(There are layers to supremacy: Jussie Smollett isn’t just a black man. He’s a gay black man. And homophobia and racism reportedly put the “Empire” star in the hospital Tuesday.)

For all the awards, there has been very little change when it comes to representation in Hollywood. A study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, released last year, found only four women of color were the lead in the top 100 films of 2017. And 70.7 percent of speaking roles were for white characters. Less than 3 percent were differently abled. Not even 1 percent were LGBTQ. Over the past decade, only 4 percent of the top 100 studio films were directed by women, spurring the #4percentchallenge.

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Last Friday at Sundance, actress Tessa Thompson announced she was committed to working with a female director in the next 18 months. Constance Wu, Jordan Peele, Brie Larson, J.J. Abrams, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Lopez, and more joined in.

This is how we make change. Yes, we must fight for our communities, but equity for just a few is equity for none. We must fight for equity for all.

The success of “Black Panther” does not hurt “Crazy Rich Asians,” it helps. So when “Black Panther” was first announced and Gina Rodriguez asked where the Latinos are in DC and Marvel projects, people were mad.

Not only because she overlooked Thompson, Zoe Saldana, Jay Hernandez, Carlos Valdes, and Rosario Dawson, all of whom have had roles in DC and Marvel films and shows.

But rather than delight in the “Black Panther” announcement and continue to fight for space, she centered herself. And then she did it again last September when interviewer Xilla Valentine asked actress Yara Shahidi about what it’s like to be a role model “for so many young black women,” and Rodriguez interrupted, correcting him, saying “so many women.”

Yes, Shahidi is a role model for all women. But just as Rodriguez recognizes the visibility she provides her community, Shahidi does the same for young black women. That shouldn’t be erased.

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I’m a fan of Rodriguez, star of The CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” She creates opportunities for Latinos and women of color with her production company. Her new film, “Miss Bala,” features 90 percent Latinx in front of and behind the camera. That’s progress. Support it.

I disagree with the outrage surrounding her statements that Latinx women are lower paid than black, Asian, and white women: According to a 2018 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, they are. But it doesn’t negate her anti-black comments.

Last week, while trying to apologize for her missteps on SiriusXM’s “Sway in the Morning,” she fumbled. In an attempt to align herself with blackness, she called her father dark-skinned. He is not. And she pointed out how the Asian community and white community were not angry with her — just the black folk who she relates to the most. Damn, Gina. This is not the way.

We are all hurting. White supremacy and sexism hurt us all, and no one is bias-free. We all have work to do. Not only do we have to check ourselves, we have to check our heroes (Alice Walker’s appalling promotion of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory comes to mind). And as we strive to create change, we have to think about the ways we can fight for one another, and celebrate one another, and do that without blowing out someone else’s candles.

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When “Black Panther” won the SAG award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a motion picture Sunday, the film’s star Chadwick Boseman talked about the struggle.

“To be young, gifted, and black, we all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you . . . we know what it is like to be the tail and not the head, we know what it’s like to be beneath and not above, and that is what we went to work with every day. . . . We knew we had something special that we wanted to give the world. That is something I wish all actors would get to experience.”

And at the ceremony, the casts of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther” celebrated together in a picture.

We all deserve these moments. I hope “Miss Bala” gets that moment. More importantly, we have to roll up our sleeves and get messy in order to make change that lasts beyond the moment.

There is no revolution without intersectionality. So if we want equity, we’re going to have to fight the same fight.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and @sincerely.jenee.