Could Oscars be the next for a nod of the Asian Michelle Yeoh?
Published: Mar 07, 2023 09:51 PM
Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

Illustration: Hang Dachuan/Global Times

"Kung Fu Queen" Michelle Yeoh seems to be only one step away from making history at the Oscars after she won best actress at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, which are seen as one of the most crucial steps on the path to an Oscar statuette.

The Chinese-Malaysian actress beat frontrunner Australian actress Cate Blanchett to win Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role at the SAG Awards on Sunday, becoming the first Asian woman to triumph in that category.

The multiverse adventure Everything Everywhere All at Once dominated the 2023 SAG Awards by bagging four trophies, including the top prize, Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Before that, the A24 sci-fi comedy had already earned 11 Oscar nominations, becoming the most-nominated film at the 2023 Oscars. 

The final Oscars voting began on March 2 and ended on March 7, and the official ceremony will start on March 12 evening. Whether the film and its cast and crew represented by lead actress Yeoh will win the most ballots has put the film in the spotlight and has particularly excited the Asian community.

Yeoh's SAG Awards win has cemented her status at the Oscars since the tastes of the two awards are very close. In the past 33 years, there have been 23 films that have won best picture at both awards. The 61-year-old actress also took home a Golden Globe award for her performance in the film in January, making her the frontrunner to win the award.

The star's career has advanced from starring in action movies with Jackie Chan and the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, which earned her the title of "Kung Fu Queen." 

Getting the nods of so many major awards was not easy for Yeoh, who has acted in the film across many genres including comedy, drama and action. With her amazing performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once, she deserves all the compliments she has been getting. But the biggest threat comes from Blanchett, whose Tár has earned six nominations.

If Yeoh wins, she will become the first Asian actress to win Best Actress Oscar. However, the award cannot cover the fact that Asian actors have been marginalized for decades.

Yeoh once recalled her initial footsteps in Hollywood were full of prejudice. "Hollywood was so, so very insular. They didn't need to look beyond their backyard, because the box office in the world couldn't be bigger than theirs. America made me suddenly aware, 'You're a minority.'"

During his speech at the SAG Awards, Yeoh's co-star James Hong also spoke out about Asian stereotypes in Hollywood. 

"The leading role was played by these guys with their eyes taped up like this and they talk like this," said the 94-year-old veteran film star while pulling the corner of his eyes up with his fingers and mimicking an overdramatic Chinese accent.

"And the producer said the Asians were not good enough and they are not box office. But look at us now, huh?!" Ironically, this part has been cut from the video on the official Twitter account of the SAG Awards.

Voters at the 2023 Oscars seem have realized this unfairness, so have given generous nominations for stars of Asian descent. Yeoh's co-stars Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, as well as director Daniel Kwan, were also honored.

This is already a big step for the Academy Awards, but it is still unknown if their actual intention is just to show "political correctness." One award is not enough, only when the bigwigs in Hollywood truly respect and appreciate the Asian actor community can this racial imbalance be truly resolved.

In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, representing generations of unrecognized predecessors. Sadly, almost 60 years has passed, and the so called "glorious time" for the Asian community in the Western film market has yet to come. And the question still remains: "Will it come?"