For her performance in “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once,” the 60-year-old becomes the first Asian woman to win an Academy Award for best actress in a lead role.
Michelle Yeoh, a 60-year-old female Asian actor, has made waves for her role as Evelyn Wang in the same-titled successful film by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as “the Daniels”), for which she won the first Asian SAG award winner and the second Asian Golden Globe winner for best actress.
She is also the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for best actress in a leading role.
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof to dream big and dreams do come true,” said Yeoh as she accepted her award.
She was already known as the first “Asian-identifying Oscar nominee,” owing to the fact that she was preceded by “The Dark Angel” star Merle Oberon, who was nominated in 1935 but did not win — and supposedly concealed her South Asian background.
Yeoh’s winning streak has made her a role model to people of color, Asians and women, especially those of a “certain age” — an aspect to which she also alluded to in her Oscars speech: “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you’re ever past your prime.”
In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Yeoh plays a harried immigrant wife and mother facing an Inland Revenue Service (IRS) audit of the family laundromat.
Things change when she realizes that there are countless versions of the cosmos — and herself — and that they are all under threat from a threat that only her present avatar can stop. As a result, she finds herself navigating alternative realms and picking up abilities perfected by previous versions of herself.
Aside from highlighting Yeoh’s credentials as an actor with nearly 40 years of experience, the film’s success highlights her own perseverance in an industry that has frequently established clichéd clichés for non-white actors.
From ballerina to beauty queen
Michelle Yeoh never intended to be an actor. Born and reared in Malaysia, she aspired to be a ballerina and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dancing in London until a back accident put a stop to her dreams.
Her mother, Janet, then put her in the Miss Malaysia/World pageant without her knowledge in 1983.
She eventually won the competition. This quickly resulted in appearances in Hong Kong ads. Her first was for Guy Laroche watches, with none other than Jackie Chan, the world-famous martial arts actor.
Film offers followed and she rose to prominence in the 1980s starring in a series of Hong Kong action and martial arts films where she performed her own stunts, such as “Yes, Madam!” (1985), “Police Story 3: Supercop” (1992) and “Holy Weapon” (1993).