Oscars 2023: Michelle Yeoh expects win for ‘invisible’ Asian communities

6 hours ago

Image source, Getty Images

picture description,

Michelle Yeoh recently won Best Actress at the SAG Awards

“Is it that I can’t be here or that I’m not allowed to be here?” In the hit film, Jobu-Joy asks everything, everywhere at once.

The wry, subversive question from the film’s antagonist – desperate to end the world she doesn’t feel welcome in – encapsulates actress Michelle Yeoh’s Hollywood journey.

Yeoh, of course, is the film’s unlikely superhero – Evelyn Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant and laundromat owner who gets sucked into a multiverse.

The role, she says, reflects the battles she’s fought to be recognized in Hollywood — much like the question her nemesis is asking.

“You want that seat at the table so you have the privilege of being seen and heard,” Yeoh told the BBC in an interview via Zoom. “What I’m asking for is the privilege of being able to compete.”

“Even from day to day [Evelyn Wang] was born, her father says she is a failure because she was born a girl. It’s been a long time since I read something that touched me so deeply.”

Yeoh’s portrayal of Wang stormed this year’s awards season. After winning at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, she’s now ready to make history at the Oscars.

“I am very aware that I cannot be recognized as an actress. It’s a whole community of Asians coming up and saying you have to do this for us.”

“Asians tend not to show as much emotion. And I think maybe there’s a misconception that we don’t have to tell our stories, which isn’t true,” she says. “The way we tell the story makes all the difference. Audiences want Hollywood to reflect the global community.”

Before her Hollywood success, Yeoh was already an A-list in Asia.

Born in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, she attended the Royal Academy of Dance in London in her teens. A back injury ended her dancing career – but her training wasn’t in vain as it helped her perform her own stunts in films for which she later became famous.

After winning the Miss Malaysia pageant, she began filming in Hong Kong and rose to fame with Yes Madam! in 1985. She played a female police inspector, and the film was so successful that it inspired many other Chinese-language action films with female leads.

“I chose action films because I didn’t believe women were damsels in distress. Their stories need to be told properly,” says Yeoh.

Cody Foo, who was Yeoh’s neighbor in Ipoh when he was five, says: “I remember my mother wanted to hang out with her all the time. I knew she was important because my mom called her Aunt Michelle Yeoh, not Aunt Michelle. I remember once asking to play with her keychain and she let me, glad a child was entertaining, while she chatted with my mother. She was basically like any other aunt.”

picture description,

Cody Foo and his mother with Michelle Yeoh in 1996

Her success left an indelible mark on many Malaysians like Cody who is now a 33-year-old recording artist in the country.

“It’s hard to imagine what success would be like for us minorities in the creative field until Michelle Yeoh showed me I could do it,” says Foo.

“In 1996 we supported them in opening their restaurant. Shortly after that she left Malaysia to shoot the film Tomorrow Never Dies and I never saw her again,” he says.

Yeoh landed her first major Hollywood role in the James Bond film opposite Pierce Brosnan. She played an able Chinese spy – a radical departure from the usual “Bond Girl” – at a time when roles for minorities and women were deeply stereotyped.

In an interview with Elle magazine, she had said that when she first came to America, people thought if they spoke more slowly, she would understand them better.

“They were shocked that I spoke English,” she says, still visibly perplexed at the memory. “I didn’t understand what happened.”

“Being called a minority didn’t register with me. I’m from Malaysia and we are a multiracial society and have always embraced each other’s differences,” she adds.

Her refusal to play subservient characters or become a mere accessory for male leads meant fewer roles. But slowly that changed.

picture description,

Everything Everywhere All at Once features a predominantly Asian cast

“The world has evolved and there are other markets that will continue to grow. It’s good for Hollywood because it will show them that they need to evolve and get better,” Yeoh said.

But even now she is not only struggling with racist stereotypes.

“I think a lot of us, especially women, understand that as you get older, you get pigeonholed. As an actress, your roles become smaller and less important,” she says.

“We have male actors in their ’60s or ’70s playing superheroes who save the world. But God forbid, why can’t a woman do that?”

Yeoh’s Hollywood breakthrough came in 2018 when she was cast as matriarch Eleanor Young in the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians — which also has a mostly Asian cast.

She credits her success to young directors and storytellers: “That’s why I’m counting on the next generation of thought leaders like the Daniels, who are brave enough to write this script about a very ordinary woman who gets a chance to become a superhero. “

“They create their own opportunities. They create their own doors. I wish I was a writer, I would have written a lot of my own screenplays,” she adds.

picture description,

Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert on the set of Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything at once was a big risk for her, said her friends and colleagues.

“But life is about taking risks. If not, you will keep doing the same thing over and over again.”

“I think the Asian community has felt so unnoticed for so long. But the sea of ​​change is taking place. It took time, and I’m just grateful to see it,” she says.

Perhaps it’s fitting that Michelle Yeoh, a stalwart of Asian cinema, is the first woman to identify as Asian and earn an Oscar nomination, possibly proof that everything is changing. But maybe not everywhere. And certainly not all at once.

video caption,

Michelle Yeoh on her Oscar 2023 nomination


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *