Michelle Yeoh Makes History and Cements Her Legacy

Michelle Yeoh accepts her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role | Image Credit: People Magazine
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As Everything Everywhere All at Once dominated the Academy Awards, Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh is the first Asian in the Oscars’ 95-year run to win the ‘Best Actress’ trophy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once was a heavy favourite to dominate the 95th annual Academy Awards, and the film did not disappoint, taking home Best Picture and also winning three acting awards ― Michelle Yeoh won Best Actress, Ke Huy Quan won Best Supporting Actor, and Jamie Lee Curtis won Best Supporting Actress ― while filmmaking duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The film also won the editing Oscar.

Cementing her legacy as Malaysia’s most successful and decorated international actor, Michelle Yeoh will now have another descriptor added to her local nom de plume, and will henceforth be known as Oscar-Winning Actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh!

In winning the Best Lead Actress award, Yeoh is not only Malaysia’s first Oscar winner, but the first Asian overall to ever win in the lead category.

A well-deserved win for Michelle Yeoh | Image Credit: Etienne Laurent/EPA

Yeoh took home the first Academy Award of her celebrated journey as an actor, having built a long career in martial arts and action movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Yes, Madam.

EEAAO, as the latest Academy Awards Best Picture is colloquially known, was directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and brought the recently popular film trope of the multiverse into a more nuanced story. The film largely centres on Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged laundromat owner who, while being audited by the IRS, discovers she must connect with different versions of herself from parallel universes in order to prevent widespread destruction.

Here in Malaysia, both mainstream media outlets and online portals alike sang Yeoh’s praises, unsurprisingly. Some netizens, however, have questioned if the film, which contains notable elements of LGBTQ culture and identity, would even be screened in its entirety in the country whose own daughter became the first Malaysian to ever win an Academy Award. In the movie, Yeoh’s character, Evelyn, has a daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who is openly a lesbian. Evelyn is initially reluctant to accept Joy’s relationship with another woman, Becky (Tallie Medel).

According to one review, “While meeting with an IRS agent (Jamie Lee Curtis), Evelyn is suddenly pulled into a multi-dimensional adventure, in which she’s tasked with stopping an ‘agent of pure chaos’ looking to destroy everything in existence. That dark force is revealed to be Joy, who has been taken over by a villainous alter ego named Jobu Tupaki – jolting Evelyn to try to get her daughter back by learning to fight evil with kindness.” 

The inclusion of this particular storyline is not a minor one in the film; indeed, it plays a key role in the film’s emotional arc, so much so that some critics have praised EEAAO for layering in, amid “a confetti blast of parallel universes, martial arts and movie references, sprinkled with googly eyes, fanny packs, and existential bagels… a sneakily emotional story of queer acceptance and identity.”

Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, and Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once | Image Credit: A24 Films

That said, the Oscar win was unquestionably a seismic moment for Hollywood – and for Malaysia, too.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” an emotional Yeoh said from the stage as she accepted her Oscar. “This is proof that dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you that you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”


The 60-year-old Yeoh dedicated the award to her mother – and to all the mothers in the world. “They are real the superheroes, and without them, none of us will be here tonight,” she said.

The prize adds to a record awards season for EEAAO, which became only the fifth film in history to sweep four major guild awards (DGA, PGA, SAG, and WGA). At the Oscars, it scored a whopping 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis (the latter of whom won the award) and Best Supporting Actor Ke Huy Quan (who also won in his category). The film also won Best Picture and six other trophies.

Yeoh is only the third Asian woman to win an acting award at the Oscars — following Yuh-Jung Youn for Minari and Miyoshi Umeki for Sayonara — and the first in the lead category. In clinching the trophy, Yeoh beat Cate Blanchett for Tár, Michelle Williams for The Fabelmans, Andrea Riseborough for To Leslie, and Ana de Armas for Blonde.

As she exited the stage, Yeoh triumphantly shouted, “Thank you to the Academy — this is history in the making!”

The cast and crew of EEAAO taking home the Best Picture trophy | Image Credit: Getty Images

Reports from Variety, Huffpost, and USA Today contributed to this article.

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