Sandra Oh Wished 'Grey's Anatomy' Had Done More To Explore Cristina's Racial Identity

by Jessica Wang
Sandra Oh and Ellen Pompeo in "Grey's Anatomy"
Mark H. Preston/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

While reminiscing about her role as Dr. Cristina Yang, Sandra Oh revealed one thing about Grey’s Anatomy that she wanted to be different. Oh joined Kerry Washington for Variety’s Actors on Actors on June 26, where the two discussed their roles as Cristina Yang and Olivia Pope in Shonda Rhimes’ beloved TV series Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, respectively, as well as their roles in Killing Eve and Little Fires Everywhere. When the topic turned to racial identity, Oh expressed her desire for earlier seasons of Grey’s to have better explored its characters’ races — and revealed that she’s now more conscious about weaving her Asian identity into her work.

“Most of the shows that I have done have not been Asian-specific purposefully,” Oh said. “When we did Grey’s, for at least the first 10 seasons we would not talk about race. We would not go into race, and that was purposeful. And, whatever, it was the right thing to do when it was.” She then referenced the Season 3 wedding between Cristina and Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), a Black man, and how she believed it was a missed opportunity to explore identity. “[T]here were the two mothers, the Asian mother and the Black mother, and I’m like, ‘Come on, there is a lot of story that we can do here!’” Oh said. “But they didn’t want to touch it, for whatever reason. Now my interest is much more in bringing that story in.”

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Oh also touched on being the only Asian on set of Killing Eve. “Well, that I’m totally used to,” she said. “Being the sole Asian person is a very familiar place for me.”

Oh starred as Dr. Cristina Yang on the ABC medical drama series for 10 seasons, between 2005 and 2014. She left the series, which was renewed for a 17th season last year, in the Season 10 finale, “Fear (of the Unknown).” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2013, Oh addressed the reason behind her departure. “Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her go," she said. "It's such an interesting thing to play a character for so long and to actually get the sense that she wants to be let go as well. [Cristina] wants to be let go, and I am ready to let her go… I've gone through a lot of therapy over this.”

Rhimes called Oh’s departure “bittersweet" and told THR, "Over the past 10 seasons, I have been made better by Sandra's trust, faith and friendship, and I can't quantify how grateful I am for her collaboration on a character we both love so deeply.” Rhimes added, “We're both going to savor every moment of Cristina Yang, and then we're going to give her the exit she deserves.” While Oh had hoped for more in terms of explorations of race, it’s still clear that she looks back at her time as Cristina Yang with nothing but fondness.