Michelle Yeoh is rewriting the record books, becoming the first Asian Best Actress winner in the Academy Awards’ 95-year history.
The Malaysian-born star, 60, became the first actress who identifies as Asian to win the Oscar in the Best Actress category for her multilayered performance as Evelyn Wang in the genre-bending film, Everything Everywhere All At Once. This is Yeoh’s first Oscar.
After being presented the award by Jessica Chastain and Halle Berry — a moment that was extra special as it marked just the second time a woman of color has won for Best Actress, with Berry first winning the award in 2001 — Yeoh emotionally took the stage, where she was greeted to a standing ovation by the crowd and her castmates, including fellow winner, Jamie Lee Curtis.
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh began. “This is proof that — dream big, and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you that you are past your prime. Never.”
She continued, “I wouldn’t be standing here tonight without the Daniels, without A24, without my amazing cast and crew. Without everyone who was involved with Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
Yeoh dedicated the award to her mother, calling her a “superhero.”
“I have to dedicate this to my mom — all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes, and without them, none of us would be here tonight,” Yeoh said. “She’s 84. And I’m taking this home to her. She’s watching right now in Malaysia with my family and friends. I love you guys, I’m bringing this home to you.”
“And also, to my extended family in Hong Kong, where I started my career,” she continued. “Thank you for letting me stand on your shoulders, giving me a leg up so I could be here today.”
Finishing her speech, Yeoh added, “And to my Go children. To my sisters. All of them. To my brothers. And to my family — thank you. Thank you. Thank you to the Academy this is history in the making. Thank you!”
Yeoh surged ahead in the final weeks, beating out fierce competition in the Best Actress category to take home her first Oscar statuette. She won over her biggest competition in the category, Cate Blanchett (T?r), as well as nominees Ana de Armas (Blonde), Andrea Riseborough (To Leslie) and Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans).
In the lead-up to Sunday’s Academy Awards, Yeoh won a slew of critics’ awards and took home the Golden Globe, Independent Spirit Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for her career-making Everything Everywhere All at Once performance.
The beloved film, which has received acclaim from critics and audiences, topped this year’s Oscar nominations with 11, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Yeoh, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan, Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, and Best Director for the Daniels (the collective name for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert).
Yeoh’s victory is a history-shifting one as she is the first actress who identifies as Asian to win the Best Actress Oscar. (British actress Merle Oberon, who some consider to be the first Asian Best Actress nominee for 1936’s The Dark Angel, was of partial Sri Lankan descent through her mother’s side, but hid her ethnicity for fear of discrimination. Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Vivien Leigh’s mother purportedly had Asian ancestry.)
Yeoh spent the majority of her career as a mainstay in Hong Kong, before gaining global attention in scene-stealing supporting roles in films like 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies; 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha; and 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians; and a substantial recurring TV role on Star Trek: Discovery.
At the Golden Globes, Yeoh admitted “It’s about time” she get the recognition she felt she deserved on a grand scale.
“It’s like, you work and you work and you put your head down and you think it’s OK because you love what you’re doing and you’re giving your best and your working with people that you really, really enjoy, and they become like family and all this is not what you started off with and it’s OK, it’s OK,” she told ET in January. “But, of course, when you look at your peers and you go like [sighs] and suddenly now — to be able to be getting understanding — what it feels like to really be seen, it does make a difference.”
“When we talk about representation, it’s honestly about being included,” Yeoh explained. “Inclusivity, honestly, being included and allowed to sit with the rest of us. I don’t believe I’ve done less so, but I need the opportunity, so thank you. Thank you to the Daniels, thank you to [production company] A24, thank you to the people who believe this aging ordinary woman should be given the chance to play this superhero of a character.”
The 2023 Academy Awards hosted by Jimmy Kimmel aired live on Sunday, March 12 starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC. In the meantime, keep checking back into ETonline.com for complete Oscars coverage including all the night’s big winners.
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