Michelle Yeoh Wins Best Actress Award, Making Oscar History
Michelle Yeoh made history at the Oscars, becoming the first actress of Southeast Asian descent to win the Academy Award for best actress.
LOS ANGELES – Michelle Yeoh has won the Academy Award for best actress and made history all at once.
The Malaysian-born actor became the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for best actress on Sunday night, March 12 (Monday, March 13 in Manila) for her multifaceted performance in the multiversal “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility. This is proof that dreams dream big and dreams do come true,” she said. “And ladies, don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re past your prime.”
Yeoh’s victory comes almost 90 years after Luise Rainer, a white actor, won the same category for donning “yellowface” to play a Chinese villager in “The Good Earth.”
As a nominee, Yeoh was the first in the category who identified as Asian. Merle Oberon, who was nominated in 1935 for “The Dark Angel” but didn’t win, hid her South Asian heritage, according to birth records.
She joyously acknowledged the historical moment in front of reporters in the press room.
“I think this is something we have been working so hard towards for a very long time and tonight, we freaking broke that glass ceiling! I kung fu-ed it out and shattered it,” Yeoh said.
Yeoh beat out past Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (“Tár”), as well as Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”), Ana de Armas (“Blonde”) and Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie”).
The category also received notice for who wasn’t nominated: In a year of strong performances from Black women like Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”), they were shut out. Meanwhile some criticized the grassroots campaigning by A-listers on social media for Riseborough.
Yeoh also used her speech to honor her 84-year-old mother.
“I have to dedicate this to my mom and all the moms in the world because they are really the superheroes and without them none of us would be here tonight,” she said.
Janet Yeoh got to watch her daughter’s win at a live Oscar watch party in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Yeoh added her mother has “has always instilled in me confidence, taught me about love, taught me about kindness and compassion.” She also heeded her mother’s last piece of advice.
“The recent thing she asked me to do is, ‘Don’t wear pants to the Oscars.’”
Yeoh appeared a lock after winning seemingly every award everywhere, including the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award, for her nuanced portrayal of Evelyn, an immigrant Chinese wife, mother and laundromat operator bracing for a tax audit.
Her win was one of seven Oscars for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” including best picture and editing. Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan also won best supporting actor Oscars. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert won for best directors and original screenplay.
Yeoh got her start in the kung fu cinema world but rose to stardom in 1992 as Jackie Chan’s co-star in “Supercop.” American audiences got to know her even better over the next decade with hits like “Tomorrow Never Dies” and Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”
When she first read the script for “Everything Everywhere,” Yeoh thought it was “an independent film on steroids.” She was ultimately swayed by the opportunity to give voice to immigrant mothers and grandmothers who go unnoticed. The multiverse movie was also a showcase across a bevy of genres — drama, comedy, sci-fi and fantasy.
At 60, Yeoh has been heavily in demand since her standout turn as a controlling matriarch in “Crazy Rich Asians.” From there, she has done everything from a “Star Trek” spinoff to Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
Yeoh will be seen later this year in the Disney+ series “American Born Chinese.” She is also preparing to reunite with “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu for the screen adaptation of the musical “Wicked.”
Inspiring Hollywood comeback
Quan had mostly disappeared from Hollywood for over two decades, dispirited by the lack of on-camera work for Asian Americans. He returned in a big way, winning the supporting actor Oscar to cap an inspiring comeback story.
Quan accepted the trophy Sunday night for his role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” becoming just the second Asian winner ever in the supporting actor category, joining Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields” in 1984.
As his name was announced, Quan rose and hugged co-stars Yeoh and Curtis. He clasped his hands to his mouth.
“My mom is 84 years old and she’s at home watching,” Quan said. “Mom, I just won an Oscar!”
“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” he said. “They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I can’t believe this is happening to me. This is the American dream.”
As a child actor, Quan followed his manager’s advice to adopt an Americanized name, so he went by Jonathan Ke Quan.
“When I decided to get back into acting three years ago, the very first thing I wanted to do was to go back to my birth name,” he said backstage. “To see Ariana open that envelope and say Ke Huy Quan, it was so emotional.”
Quan rode a huge wave of momentum into the Oscars, having won every major award except the British Academy of Film and Television Arts or BAFTA. Quan endeared himself during acceptance speeches as much as he did in his winning performance. He used his position to encourage other struggling actors that one day they also will find success.
Along the awards show trail, the enormously likeable Quan compiled a photo album for the ages as he posed for selfies with everyone from Tom Cruise to directors James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. It seemed anyone famous was happy to smile or make funny faces alongside Quan.
The Vietnam-born actor whose family immigrated to California in the late 1970s first gained attention as a pre-teen in the hugely popular 1980s movies “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies.” He went on to roles in the TV show “Head of the Class” and the movie “Encino Man” (starring fellow Oscar nominee Brendan Fraser ) in the early 1990s before work dried up.
Finding few on-camera opportunities, Quan turned elsewhere. He earned a film degree from the University of Southern California and worked behind the scenes as a stunt coordinator and assistant director.
“I owe everything to the love of my life, my wife Echo,” he said, “who month after month, year after year for 20 years told me that one day, one day my time will come. Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
Inspired by the success of the 2018 movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” Quan returned to acting and landed an audition for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which earned a leading 11 Oscar nominations. His former “Goonies” co-star, Jeff Cohen, serves as his lawyer who drew up the contract for his Oscar-winning role.
“Thank you to my ‘Goonies’ brother for life, Jeff Cohen,” Quan said.
Now, people stop him to talk about a movie he made as a grown-up, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
As Waymond Wang, Quan appears in three different incarnations in the critically acclaimed film. He won a Golden Globe and became the first Asian man to win an individual category at the SAG Awards.
Quan won the Oscar over fellow nominees Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Brian Tyree Henry of “Causeway” and Judd Hirsch of “The Fabelmans.”
During a commercial break, Quan said he ran up to Spielberg, who gave Quan his first big break by casting him in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” They hugged.
“He said, ‘Ke, you are now an Oscar-winning actor,’” Quan said. “Hearing him say that meant the world to me and I still cannot believe it.”
He had another reunion on stage after “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was announced as best picture by Harrison Ford, Quan’s co-star in “Indiana Jones.”
The 51-year-old Quan is set to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series “Loki” on Disney+.
However, he’s in search of more work. Quan recalled years ago calling his agent every three and six months asking if there were any jobs for him only to be told no.
“First thing tomorrow I’m going to call my agent,” he said. “Hopefully, he’ll give me a different answer.”
Brendan Fraser won the best actor Oscar for “The Whale,” a transformative role in which he revived a career that was once so bright.
“I started in this business 30 years ago and things didn’t come easily to me,” said an emotional Fraser, breathing heavily on stage Sunday night. “I just want to say thank you for this acknowledgement.”
Fraser was one of five first-time nominees in the category, the first time that had happened since 1935. Fraser beat out Austin Butler of “Elvis,” Colin Farrell of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Paul Mescal of “Aftersun,” and Bill Nighy of “Living.”
Fraser figures the role of Charlie, a 600-pound reclusive gay English teacher who tries to restore his relationship with his teenage daughter, found him at the perfect time.
Any earlier in his career and Fraser has said he wouldn’t have had the life experience or heartache to authentically play a character who lives with sadness, pain and life-threatening obesity.
“I think it’s a film that’s going to change some hearts and minds, and that feels really good,” he said backstage.
Fraser’s portrayal earned him standing ovations at film festivals in Venice and Toronto, and the early praise continued building through the fall and winter. In addition to receiving the best reviews of his career, he earned a SAG Award for his performance. Along the way, he’s given emotional acceptance speeches, unafraid to cry at times.
His eyes were rimmed red as he clutched his Oscar in one hand, clearly moved by the reaction from his Hollywood peers.
“This has been incredibly rewarding and affirming,” he said backstage, “and it’s given me a lesson in humility and gratitude.”
It’s a career comeback, which Hollywood has always loved.
The 54-year-old Canadian American actor broke out in the early 1990s with the comedy “Encino Man” and the drama “School Ties.” He was the face on movie posters for “George of the Jungle” and “The Mummy” trilogy, where he worked with fellow Oscar nominee Michelle Yeoh. He did dramatic turns in “Gods and Monsters,” “The Quiet American” and 2006 best picture winner “Crash.”
He had his share of projects that bombed, too.
Then Fraser all but disappeared.
He was off the big screen for several years dealing with a series of personal issues involving divorce, his mother’s death, health problems and an alleged assault by the then-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He boycotted this year’s Golden Globes as a result.
He regained career momentum with a series of cable TV shows before appearing in director Steven Soderbergh’s movie “No Sudden Move” two years ago.
Now, he owns one of the biggest prizes in movies.
“I hope I live up to this,” he said.