Merle Oberon, the First Asian Best Actress Oscar Nominee Who Hid Her Heritage from Hollywood


87 years after Oberon’s Best Actress nomination for her 1935 movie The Dark Angel, another Asian woman wouldn’t be up for the award again until 2023.


Merle Oberon was the first Asian-American actress to receive an Academy Award nomination for best actress before Michelle Yeoh did.

Indian-born actress Oberon is best known for her roles in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and The Dark Angel (1935), the latter of which earned her a nomination for Best Actress in 1936, making her the first Asian woman to do so.

The second actress of Asian descent to receive the honor was Yeoh,60, who was just nominated for Best Actress at the 87th Academy Awards for her role in Everything  Everywhere All at Once.

From left: Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and The Dark Angel (1935). COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION (2)


According to The Washington Post, Oberon was born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson in 1911 in Mumbai (then Bombay), India, to a mother of mixed South Asian ancestry and a White British father. Later, she relocated to Calcutta (now Kolkata), then eventually to France and England by the age of 17.

Before getting a bigger break as Anne Boleyn in The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933,  she started her career in British movies in bit parts.

Oberon would soon star as Lady Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel and Kitty Vane in The Dark Angel. Oberon received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the latter performance (she lost the award to Bette Devis). She played Cathy in the 1939’s  Wuthering Heights.

The actress was married four times and had two children. Before quitting acting in 1973, she had more than 50 screen credits to her name. Her last screen appearance was in the 1973 romantic drama interval. 

In 1979, Oberon passed away at the age of 68 from a stroke. 

Original – People

Staff Reporter

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