Cover Hidilyn Diaz of Team Philippines competes during the Weightlifting - Women's 55kg Group A on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo International Forum on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

From the first Asian woman to win Best Director at the Oscars to achieving one of the best Olympic performances for their respective countries, here are some of the most notable achievements that Asians have bagged this year

This 2021 has been a big year for us, Asians. Despite all the hardships the past year, we rise to the occasion and achieve great things, showcasing our talent to the world. Whether it’s in sports, music, cinema or television, we showed the world our “can do” spirit.

Here, we round up some of the most notable first achievements worth celebrating—from the Olympics to the Nobel Prize.

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1. Chloé Zhao

First: Asian woman to win Best Director at the Oscars

In addition to her historic Oscar win, Chloé Zhao also made history in the Golden Globes and the Venice International Film Festival among many others for her movie, Nomadland.

Zhao is the most awarded person in a single awards season in the modern era. The Beijing-born filmmaker is known for her independent films and this year, worked on Marvel’s Eternals—her biggest movie to date.

Don’t miss: Chloé Zhao On Why ‘Nomadland’ is a Film For Everyone—And Working With Marvel

2. Youn Yuh-jung

First: Korean woman to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

With a career that spans over half a century, Youn Yuh-jung is no stranger to awards and prizes. But her historic win for Best Supporting Actress for Minari is a feat that no South Korean artist has ever achieved—except her.

The win also made Youn the first Asian woman to win in the acting category since 1957. For her achievement, Youn received the Order of Cultural Merit from the South Korean president—an award given to those who promote national culture and development through the arts.

Don’t miss: Youn Yuh-Jung Makes History With Best Supporting Actress Win for ‘Minari’ at the Oscars 2021

3. BTS

First: Asian act to win Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards

Making history feels like second nature to BTS now. Since their meteoric rise as a group from a then-small agency in South Korea, BTS has been breaking barriers overseas and raking in achievements.

Undeniably the biggest group in the music industry today, BTS won their first-ever grand prize in a US award show when they nabbed the Artist of the Year award at the American Music Awards this year. The pop group is also nominated for a Grammy for the second time—the only Korean group to have ever been nominated.

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4. Shang-Chi

First: Marvel Studios film with an Asian director, Asian superhero and a predominantly Asian cast

The Marvel movies have ushered in a new era of cinema. Franchises have been around but one as vast as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is changing the landscape. And while many may disagree, Marvel movies appeal to the masses which is why they carry weight.

With numerous films released, it’s only a matter of time before we get our first Asian superhero from Marvel Studios—enter Shang-Chi. What’s even better is that it’s led by an Asian director (Destin Daniel Cretton), Asian superhero (Simu Liu) and predominantly Asian cast, legends like Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh.

Don’t miss: Why ‘Shang-Chi’ is the Movie Asia’s Been Waiting For

5. Ma Dong-seok

First: Korean male actor to star in an MCU movie and the first Korean superhero

With the rise of K-pop, K-dramas and Korean movies, it’s no surprise that we’re also seeing a lot more Korean faces on overseas production these days. After giving an impressive performance in Train to Busan, Ma Dong-seok or Don Lee became a household name.

It’s not surprising that the nation’s “Papa Bear” is also the first Korean male actor to play a Korean superhero in a Marvel film. Now, he’s ushering in more and more Korean stars to appear on the international big screen.

Don’t miss: ‘Eternals’ Star Ma Dong-Seok on Suiting Up For the Marvel Epic

6. Olympics

First: Gold medal for Hong Kong (fencing), the Philippines (weightlifting), Japan (skateboarding), Thailand (Taekwando), Indonesia (Badminton), India (Athletics) and more...

Not only was this year’s Olympics held in Asia—Tokyo to be precise—but it’s also showed one of the best performances from Asia in a single Olympic. Among the many notable achievements include the first gold medal in fencing for Hong Kong by fencer Cheung Ka-long, the first gold medal for the Philippines by weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and the multiple Olympic golds for skateboarding—which made its debut this year on home soil.

There’s also Panipak Wongpattanakit who became the first Thai woman to win Olympic gold in taekwondo, Indonesia’s badminton duo Greysia Polii and Pariyani Rahayu’s first-ever doubles pair gold medal for the country and Neera Chopra’s gold in athletics—the youngest-ever Indian Olympic gold medalist and the first for athletics.

Don’t miss: Hidilyn Diaz on Her Tough Road to Claim the Philippines’ First Olympic Gold

7. Ji-young

First: Asian muppet in Sesame Street

Sesame Street first aired in 1952 and in that almost 70-year history, there hasn’t been an Asian muppet in the popular kids’ show—until this year. Meet Ji-young, a seven-year-old Korean American and the first Asian American muppet.

Ji-young was created to help counter anti-Asian sentiment following anti-Asian hate incidents that came as a result of the pandemic. What’s also impressive is that Ji-young’s puppeteer, Kathleen Kim, is also Korean American.

Don’t miss: Meet Ji-Young, Sesame Street’s First-Ever Asian American Muppet

8. Park Sae-eun

First: Asian dancer to achieve danseuse étoile (principal dancer) status in the Paris Opera Ballet

In Paris Opera Ballet’s 352-year history, it’s the first time that an Asian dancer has received danseuse étoile or principal dancer status. The appointment comes after Park Sae-eun’s emotional performance of Romeo and Juliet as the titular star-crossed lover. It also serves as a call for more diversity in classical ballet.

Park is one of the only two current foreign-born principal dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest national ballet company and one of the most prestigious ones.

Don’t miss: 5 Facts About Park Sae-Eun, the First Asian to Reach Star Status in the Paris Opera Ballet

9. Squid Game

First: Korean show to be nominated at the Golden Globes and win at the Gotham Awards

Squid Game became Netflix’s most-watched show of all time in 2021, marking a huge win for Asian stories and content. The Korean survival thriller is quickly achieving cult status and its stars, fast becoming overnight superstars overseas.

Most recently, Squid Game received three nominations at the Golden Globes—the first-ever Korean show to get nominated alongside Lee Jung-jae and Oh Yeong-su’s nods in the acting category. The K-drama also made history when it brought home the award for Breakthrough Series—Long Form at the Gotham Awards.

Don’t miss: ‘Squid Game’ Earns Three Nominations at the Golden Globes 2022

10. Maria Ressa

First: Filipino to win a Nobel Prize

Filipino journalist Maria Ressa becomes the first-ever Filipino Nobel Prize laureate. Receiving this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Ressa is also the only woman to be awarded in this year’s cohort.

Ressa received international attention due to her critical coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, more notably, his war on drugs. Her service to the Filipino people in documenting the truth through her words and safeguarding democracy has been recognised by others including Time Magazine.

Don’t miss: Maria Ressa Finally Receives the Nobel Peace Prize After More Than 2 Months



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