Michelle Yeoh becomes first Asian performer to win best actress Oscar
International icon Michelle Yeoh made history Sunday by winning the Oscar for lead actress, the first Asian ever to triumph in the category.
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh, who mounted the stage to a standing ovation, said upon collecting her prize. “This is proof that ... dream big, and dreams do come true.”
“Ladies, don’t let anybody ever tell you you are past your prime. Never give up,” she continued. “I have to dedicate this to my mom — all the moms in the world — because they are really the superheroes.”
The “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star was only the second Asian performer, and the first to identify openly as such, nominated for lead actress in 95 years of the Oscars; 1936 nominee Merle Oberon disguised her part-Indian heritage during an earlier, far less racially open era of Hollywood history.
“We need this because there’s so many who have felt unseen, unheard. It’s not just the Asian community,” Yeoh said later in the night, in the Oscars press room. “We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be seen. We deserve to have equal opportunity so we can have a seat at the table. That’s all we’re asking for. Give us that opportunity. Let us prove we are worthy.”
“Everything Everywhere,” blending science fiction with absurd comedy, romance and family drama, features Yeoh’s protagonist, Evelyn Wang, inadvertently traversing the multiverse, inhabiting around 70 different versions of herself in a mind-bending host of what-might-have-beens from put-upon wife, mother and laundromat operator to action hero to glamorous star. The role demanded versatility, physicality and emotional availability at the highest levels.
Yeoh, 60, made her name in the 1990s, performing her own stunts in a string of action movies in Hong Kong — including “Supercop,” in which she starred alongside Jackie Chan. She also starred in several massively popular movies Stateside, including best picture nominee and foreign-language film Oscar winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), the James Bond entry “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) and the blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018).
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Michelle Yeoh discusses tokenism, aging, her dangerous early-career stunts and why she prays every night for an Oscar.
The 2023 lead actress race had been perceived as very close all season long between Yeoh and Cate Blanchett (for “Tár”). Blanchett had prevailed with many critics’ groups, taking at least 30 of those prizes, including from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., the New York Film Critics Circle and the Critics Choice Awards. But Yeoh took more than 40, as well as the most important Oscar precursor: the Screen Actors Guild award.
“Thank you to the academy,” Yeoh concluded in her speech. “This is history in the making.”
Steven Vargas contributed to this report.
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