Michelle Yeoh has made history as the first Asian artist to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. During the 95th Oscars, the Malaysian actress and screen legend won the Oscar for her performance as Evelyn Wang — a Chinese-American immigrant and laundromat owner tasked with saving the multiverse — in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
"For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility. This is proof that dreams do come true," an emotional Yeoh said onstage as she accepted the award. "And ladies, don't let anybody ever tell you, you are ever past your prime. Never give up."
She continued, "I have to dedicate this to my mom [and] all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes. Without them, none of us will be here tonight. She is 84, and I'm taking this home to her. She is watching right now in Malaysia with my family and friends. I love you guys. I'm bringing this home to you. And also, to my extended family in Hong Kong where I started my career. Thank you for letting me stand on your shoulders, giving me a leg up so that I can be here today."
"Thank you to the Academy," Yeoh concluded, "this is history in the making!"
Born in Ipoh, Yeoh got her start in Hong Kong action movies before achieving global stardom in films like Tomorrow Never Dies, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won four Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film), and Crazy Rich Asians. On the cusp of turning 60, Yeoh found a role that, at long last, allowed her to reveal everything she was capable of in the mind-bending sci-fi epic, Everything Everywhere All at Once. (She also served as one of the film's executive producers.)
"Finally, after 40 years, I get this. It just goes to show, we will win the battle," Yeoh told reporters backstage following her win. "And that's what we're doing. So don't give up. Never give up... Light that fire in your soul and stay on the path. Believe. Dare to dream. Because if you don't dream, it's impossible. And nothing is impossible. Look at me, I'm here."
Yeoh's nomination alone was historic, as she was the first Asian-identifying performer to be nominated in the lead actress category. Of note, Merle Oberon, who was of Sri Lankan and Māori descent but hid her Asian background, was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 8th Oscars for her role as Kitty Vane, a white woman, in 1935's The Dark Angel.
"This is actually a historical moment, and I have to thank the Academy for acknowledging, embracing diversity and true representation," Yeoh said backstage. "This is something that we have been working so hard towards for a very long time, and tonight we freaking broke that glass ceiling. I kung fu'd it out and shattered it. And we need this, because there are so many who have felt unseen, unheard. It's not just the Asian community. This is for the Asian community, but for anybody who has been identified as a minority. We deserve to be heard; we deserve to be seen; we deserve to have the equal opportunity so we can have a seat at the table. That's all we're asking for. Give us that opportunity. Let us prove we are worth it."
Everything Everywhere All at Once took home seven Oscars in total, including co-stars Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis winning Best Supporting Actor and Actress, respectively, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Best Film Editing for Paul Rogers, and Best Picture.