Michelle Yeoh made history at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
Yeoh is the first person of south-east Asian descent to win the best actress Oscar for her role in the highly acclaimed Everything, Everywhere all at once. She defeated strong competition for the award, including Cate Blanchett for Tár and Michelle Williams for The Fabelmans.
In the film, Yeoh plays a Chinese-American laundrette owner who is mired in a tax audit, stuck in a crumbling marriage and struggling to connect with her daughter Joy. But when she discovers different versions of herself in the multiverse, she must tap into their skills in order to save the world.
While accepting the award, Yeoh said, “all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight”. She continued: “This is the beacon of hope and possibility. Dreams do come true.”
“And ladies: don’t let anybody ever tell you you are past your prime.”
She dedicated the win to her mother, 84, who was watching at home in Malaysia, and “all the mums in the world because they are really the superheroes and without them none of us would be here tonight.
Yeoh has already attracted considerable attention during the awards season for Everything Everywhere All at Once, including a Bafta nomination for best actress, and wins for the Golden Globe for best actress in a film (comedy or musical). Last month, when Yeoh won the SAG Award for outstanding performance by an actress in a leading role, she became the first Asian woman to do so.
Born in Malaysia, the actress started her career in 1984 in TV commercials. Despite having no formal Kung Fu training, her movie career was precisely defined by the numerous martial arts-based action movies including her first starring role in Yes Madam(1985). She got her big Hollywood break as a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Her sudden surge in popularity among younger audiences has clearly been a long time coming.
Yeoh’s co-stars Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis also triumphed in the supporting actor and actress categories. No other film has ever won best picture, best director and three acting prizes in the history of Oscars.
Yeoh is only the second woman of colour to win best leading actress, following Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball more than two decades ago. The best leading actress category has historically been far less diverse than the supporting actress category. It has been almost 8 years since the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite led to a reckoning within the Academy, but there is still a considerable lack of diversity. The historic ceremony last night, however, might be a sign of times changing for the better.