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Only 1 Asian Actor Has Ever Won An Emmy

And here's why.

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After winning her Emmy, Panjabi stressed the importance of seeing fully realized characters on television.

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

"Most of the roles I was ever offered and did play were so relevant to my ethnicity, and I’m very grateful for those opportunities. But I’ve always believed that I’d like to play a role where my ethnicity isn’t the most important thing," she told reporters in the press room. "So to be given this opportunity to play such an interesting character where, up until now, we haven’t even mentioned her ethnicity, is a dream come true ... I think it’s the way it should be for young people, to watch TV where the characters are from different backgrounds ... but it's not all about their race and background."

After her 2010 win, Panjabi was subsequently nominated for an Emmy in the same category in 2011 and 2012 (both for her role on The Good Wife).


While it's true that there has been an increase of Asian-led television shows in recent years...

...A recent study found that Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) characters "remain marginalized and tokenized on screen.”

The study, conducted by scholars from multiple universities across California, found that nearly 60% of series do not feature an AAPI actor as a series regular.

According to the study, called "Tokens on the Small Screen," out of 242 broadcast, cable, and digital platform shows that aired during the 2015-16 season, 155 did not feature a single AAPI series regular.


Often the AAPI characters are isolated, meaning they're not depicted as being in romantic or familial relationships, which doesn't present actors with a whole lot of opportunity to show depth and nuance.

This year, Aziz Ansari, B.D. Wong, and Riz Ahmed were nominated for Emmys in acting categories.


Ansari was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Dev Shah on Netflix's Master of None. Ahmed is up for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie for playing Nasir Khan on HBO's The Night Of. And Wong earned a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his part as Whiterose on USA's Mr. Robot (he lost to Gerald McRaney of This Is Us).

Susan Cheng is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Susan Cheng at

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