Michell Yeoh becomes Oscar’s the first best actress who identifies as Asian, for her performance in EEAAO, and yet her legacy will go well beyond this distinction.
For her performance as Evelyn in Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheiner’s sci-fi comedy Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle Yeoh has made Oscar history as the first Asian female to be given the category of Best Actress. The film stars Yeoh as a Chinese-American immigrant who discovers she can connect with parallel “herselves”. Oscar’s Best Actress category has historically lacked diversity. Throughout 91 Oscar ceremonies, only 32 awards were given to actors of colour, according to The Evening Standard in 2020. Approximately 9% of the 336 awards distributed were awarded to individuals of colour. However, the tide has begun to turn. And Yeoh’s success deserves a bigger picture as it goes beyond her screen image.
It is breaking down bias of marginalised Asian community in film industry
After the winner was announced, Yeoh said in her speech, “Ladies, never let anybody tell you that you are past your prime.” In the film Everything Everywhere All At Once, Yeoh finally played the lead role in a Hollywood picture for the first time following a 59-year career that includes her iconic performances in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Crazy Rich Asians. And there has been a 95-year wait for the Academy Award to recognise a woman who identifies as Asian in its category for best actress. Michelle Yeoh’s well-deserved recognition is a victory for Asian communities worldwide. As she noted in one of her speeches, “This award proves we can tell our own stories on our own terms.”
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities.” Yeoh said in her acceptance speech. “This is proof that dreams come true. For Chinese community specifically, Michelle Yeoh’s nomination serves as a source of an inspiration, demonstrating that recognition is achievable through hard work, determination, and excellence. It also challenges long-standing biases about Asians, showcasing the breadth of talents within the community and highlighting the importance of diversity and representation in the media industries.
It is women’s turn to become superheroes
Furthermore, Michelle Yeoh’s chivalrous image, a counter to the normative female image within Hollywood is not often seen, in which full of male gaze and gender inequality. In her speech at the Golden Globes, Michelle Yeoh stated: “I can beat you up, OK? And I’m serious.” This is a symbol of raising higher voices for the once “powerless”. The strong voice is self-generated and resilient. at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2016, Yeoh told audience that “Women must be true to themselves, hold their own against male colleagues and be uncompromising in their career decisions in order to fight for equality.”
ASEAN 2016 – An Insight, an Idea with Michelle Yeoh
Yeoh is also known as a martial arts expert who performs her own stunts opposite male stars such as Jackie Chan, and for her role as a Bond girl in 007 Tomorrow Never Dies. A great female action star in cinema history, Yeoh is certainly among the best. In spite of the fact that she is still acting in action movies in her 60s, women are rarely given the opportunity to play leading roles in such movies. She says, “You get to that stage in your life and your career where you feel: ‘I’m being sort of overlooked here,’ because you are now relegated to these kinds of roles. The guys seem to be doing it. They’re still like superheroes in their 60s and 70s. Why does a woman not get the opportunity to be that?”
Michelle Yeoh – a true global sustainability superhero
For an actress, the Oscar for Best Actress is undoubtedly the highest level of recognition for professional recognition. While when she is off-screen, Michelle Yeoh takes on another role, in partnership with UNDP, to raise awareness and mobilize support for the Sustainable Development Goals. She has been actively involved in promoting global sustainability and environmental conservation for many years.
In 2016, Michelle Yeoh was appointed as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. In this role, Yeoh visited the Nepal as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador on the first anniversary of the disaster after experiencing first-hand the devastating earthquake that struck the country in April 2015. Shining a spotlight not only on recovery efforts but also the critical need for disaster preparedness, she said: “My terrifying experience as the earth rattled made me realize the crucial importance of preparing for disaster long before it happens.”
Michelle Yeoh Appointed as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador
Additionally, Yeoh is known for being an “eco-warrior” and has been actively involved in environmental conservation efforts. She has worked with organizations such as WildAid to raise awareness about the impact of illegal wildlife trade and has campaigned against the use of single-use plastics.
In terms of sustainable living, Michelle Yeoh has launched several initiatives to promote it. In 2019, she launched the #Heart4Climate campaign to encourage individuals to take action to combat climate change. She has also supported initiatives such as the “No Plastic Straw” campaign and has promoted eco-friendly products such as reusable bags and water bottles. Also, for more sustainable film productions, Yeoh has encouraged the film industry to adopt eco-friendly practices such as using renewable energy sources, reducing waste, and promoting sustainable transportation options.
Michelle Yeoh winning Oscar Best Actress is a significant moment not only for Asians and women, but for all individuals and communities who have been previously underrepresented and excluded in Hollywood. This is a long-waited milestone for Asian community and representation of female in Hollywood. Michelle Yeoh herself, has been constantly fighting to break down barriers that have historically marginalised and excluded Asians and women’s power from mainstream film discourses.
Odyssey is the largest film festival in conversation with Greater China and overseas Chinese communities in the UK, presented by UK-China Film Collab. The 2023 edition will take place in late May and June. Odyssey celebrates ‘Global Sustainability’ as the main theme this year. Responding to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they have 5 main strands this year for festival screening, with a new competition category “Sustainable Corporate Culture”.
As a pre-festival event for Odyssey 2023, and to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, the festival committee UK-China Film Collab teamed up with UK Chinese Women Connect to organise a special screening of Everything Everywhere All at Once. On 8 March, at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, they invited fans of Michelle Yeoh’s to see this award-winning film again, and to celebrate the full spectrum, multi-possibilities of women, not just in parallel universes.