Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh ended her incredible awards season by taking home the Best Actress Oscar at the 95th Academy Awards. Her victory makes her the first Asian woman to win the category and only the second woman of color to pick up the award. Yeoh won for her starring role in Everything Everywhere All at Once, which took home seven awards—including Best Picture—at last night's ceremony.
Yeoh rose to fame in the early 1990s after starring in several Hong Kong action films. She then made the leap to Hollywood, where she was best known for her roles in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Her career has had an incredible resurgence thanks to her role as Evelyn Wang in EEAAO and she's been picking up awards all year.
As always, Yeoh made an emotional and memorable acceptance speech. First, she dedicated her Oscar to “all the little boys and girls who look like me,” and reminded the world that her victory “was a beacon of hope and possibilities.” She also acknowledged that her win was a victory for women, particularly women of a certain age who are often overlooked by Hollywood: “Ladies, don't let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.”
Yeoh then gave a heartfelt thanks to her mother, who was watching the ceremony in Malaysia and also gave a nod to her film family in Hong Kong for giving her a chance early in her career.
Backstage in the Oscar press room, Yeoh went even more in-depth on why her victory as an Asian actress is important. “I think [true representation] is something that we've been working so hard towards for a very long time. And tonight, we broke the glass ceiling,” she said to applause. “I kung-fu-ed it out and shattered it!”
She then continued on a more serious note. “We need this. Because there are so many who have felt unseen and unheard. It's not just the Asian community. This is for the Asian community, but for anybody who's been identified as a minority, we deserve to be heard, we deserve to be seen. We deserve to have the equal opportunities so we can have a seat at the table.”
The Oscars have been attempting to diversify after the #OscarsSoWhite protest in 2015/2016, when the main acting categories had no nominees of color. Since that time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been attempting to diversify nominees and its membership. According to The New York Times, 50% of the newest membership class comes from overseas, making about 25% of the overall membership internationally-based.
The story of the 95th Academy Awards is certainly one of redemption. All the winners in the acting categories were first-time winners with a long history in the business. This included Yeoh's co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan, who respectively won Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Curtis has a long, storied career and is perhaps best known for her role in the Halloween series. Quan was a child actor with memorable roles in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before leaving his acting dreams behind to work as a stunt coordinator. His role in Everything Everywhere All at Once was his first acting job in 20 years.
The other big winner of the night was Brendan Frasier who, as predicted, took home the Best Actor Award for his role in The Whale. Frasier was a major box office draw in the 1990s, who claimed to have been blacklisted after coming forward with sexual assault allegations against the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
But now, here he is, along with everyone else, as part of an epic comeback story. For all the winners, it was a night of triumph and redemption and a sign that Hollywood is realizing the value of what diversity can bring to the table.
Watch as Michelle Yeoh becomes the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress Oscar.
In the press room, Yeoh elaborates on what her victory means to the Asian community and other minorities seeking representation on film.
And here's her mother's reaction to her win while watching with family and friends in Malaysia.
@hypemalaysia #MichelleYeoh ’s mom & fellow Malaysians reacting to her historic #Oscars win! #everythingeverywhereallatonce ♬ original sound – Hype Malaysia
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