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Michelle Yeoh on Historic Oscar Nom: “This Is Beyond Just Me”

The Hollywood Reporter 1/24/2023 Hilton Dresden
© Provided by The Hollywood Reporter

With her lead actress 2023 Oscar nomination for Everything Everywhere All At Once, Michelle Yeoh made history as the first self-identified Asian actress ever nominated in the category, and, further, is one of four Asian actors recognized this year (her co-stars Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan are also nominated, as is Hong Chau for The Whale). 

Everything Everywhere All At Once led all films with 11 total nominations, and Yeoh stresses this is because of the movie’s emotional core: “We are a little movie that has such a great, loving, beating heart that so many people relate to. And I think that is the reason why we are here today with all these nominations, because we’re just getting an outpouring of love — it’s been such a healing process. Not just in the movie, but [for] our audience as well, as they walk through the journey with this crazy woman called Evelyn Wong.”

The long road to EEAAO’s Oscars glory is not lost on Yeoh, the 60-year-old Malaysian-born star known in the United States for her iconic roles in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Crazy Rich Asians. “It’s taken a long time. But I think this is more than me,” she told The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday after the nominations were announced. “At the present moment, constantly, all the time, having Asians walking up to me saying, ‘You can do it, you’re doing it for us.’ It’s like, ‘I understand. I totally understand.’ All this time, they’ve not been recognized, they’ve not been heard.”

She continued, “I’ve been in the movie business now for 40 years. When you have validation from your peers, all that is like the cherry on the cake. But the reason why you do films and you present your babies out to the world is because you want the story to be told, you want the people to understand, whether it’s your culture, whether it’s certain very poignant stories, or important tales, to be told. I think this is beyond just me. It represents so many who have hoped to be seen in this way, to have a seat at the table, to say, ‘I am of value too, I need to be seen too.’” 

She shared her fear ahead of a very successful awards season that, come Oscars morning, she was petrified all the buzz might fall short of film’s top honor: “I’m glad I got nominated. Otherwise hell, man, I wouldn’t know what to do. When they were calling out the names, I was like ‘If they don’t call my name, what am I gonna say to the people who have had so much belief in me?’ It’s been my nightmare for the last two days, because it could happen, right? How am I gonna walk out that door? And all these disappointed Asian faces looking: ‘Why did you not do it for us?’”

While some consider 1936 lead actress nominee Merle Oberon (for The Dark Angel) the first Asian nominee, she didn’t identify as such and hid her heritage to pass as white. Only one actress of color has ever won in this category to date — Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball over 20 years ago. Speaking to the historic nature of her nomination for Asian actresses, she said, “We know of so many more amazing actresses than myself. So, this is for them. I stand on their shoulders. And I thank them for paving the way and allowing me to get here.”

Adding, “My phone is going completely bananas from Hong Kong and Asia and China. They are all dialing in because they are just so ecstatic for me and for the fact that, you know, it’s the first Asian who’s getting this opportunity to be up there.”

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