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 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.”
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