A pair of actors received historic best actor Oscar nominations on Monday. Riz Ahmed, nominated for his role in The Sound of Metal, became the first Muslim actor nominated in the category, while Minari‘s Steven Yeun became the first Asian American actor to receive a best actor nomination.
The nomination of Ahmed, the British Pakistani rapper and actor, follows two wins by Mahershala Ali in the supporting actor category for Moonlight (2016) and Greenbook (2018). Ali remains the only Muslim actor to win an Oscar, with Omar Sharif also nominated in the supporting Oscar category for 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia.
In filmmaker Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal Ahmed plays Ruben, a heavy metal drummer learning to live with the loss of his hearing. The actor studied with an ASL coach for nearly a year to bring authenticity to the role. Though Ahmed had enjoyed several parts in blockbusters, including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Venom (2018), he opted to pursue the intimate Sound of Metal despite the career heat he was feeling. It is a move that paid off.
“There was an opportunity to do bigger, more commercial projects and make money and buy a home and all these things,” Ahmed previously told The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tatiana Siegel for a cover story. “But I thought, ‘Here’s your chance.’ My gut feeling about it was so strong. And for whatever reason, I felt really hungry for something like that, to go all in and just fucking go there.”
Yeun rose to prominence more than a decade ago as a fan-favorite star of The Walking Dead. The Korean American actor leads Minari as Jacob Yi, father of a Korean family that relocates to small-town Arkansas in the 1980s.
Filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung, who is a cousin to Yeun’s wife by marriage, wrote the role based on his own father. The duo had only met a few times before Yeun received the script from his agent, who he learned also represented Chung.
“It was a truthful rending and honest rendering of people, of humans, that also resonated to me in a way that I could identify with culturally,” Yeun recently told THR‘s Scott Feinberg. “I was like, ‘This is it. This is the one that my generation dreams of making about our parents.'”
Both The Sound of Metal and Minari are nominated for best picture, which will be revealed during the ceremony April 25.