This week, in light of the brutal torture porn that was the Walking Dead season premiere, Entertainment Weekly is featuring Steven Yeun as its cover star. Makes sense—he has portrayed one of the show’s most beloved characters, and (SPOILER ALERT) it’s a pretty big deal that after six season’s he’s finally leaving the show. But his cover is a little groundbreaking in itself.
As far as as our research has turned up, Steven Yeun is one of three male Asian actors (and one of two living ones) to have an Entertainment Weekly cover all to himself since the magazine’s launch in 1990. As far as Asian actresses go, Mindy Kaling graced the cover back in 2013, as did Lost's Yunjin Kim in 2010. (We've reached out to EW for confirmation and will update with their response.)
Yeun has definitely appeared on EW covers before—and technically, he’s been featured on a cover by himself, as one of six different “collectible covers” of the same Walking Dead special issue, released in February of this year. The other five covers were of his Walking Dead costars.
Before that, a September 2014 Walking Dead special multi-cover issue saw Yeun sharing one of four cast covers with costar Lauren Cohan. Needless to say, this week's edition—a true solo cover, with no alternate versions in circulation—is a big step up.
From what we've seen, it looks like the last time an Asian actor had a solo cover (aside from Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim’s special edition cover, an honor he shared with nine of his costars including Yunjin Kim) was back in 2007, when Masi Oka of Heroes graced the cover.
Before then, welp, we have to go all the way back to 1994, when Brandon Lee (son of Bruce, and star of cult fave The Crow) was featured on the cover—a year after his tragic death.
As Asian actors continue to fight for access to roles, and actual Asian roles continue to be whitewashed (interestingly enough, Benedict Cumberbatch was featured on last week’s EW cover as Doctor Strange, a character that is essentially rooted in yellowface), it’s all the more important to recognize Asian talent and give these performers the space they deserve—a space white actors have always been able to access. Steve Yeun’s EW cover isn’t just a big deal because it pays homage to one of the most beloved characters in modern television—it’s a disruption, a declaration that your heroes can be Asian, too.