HomeUS News updateWhat Michelle Yeoh's win really says about Hollywood 

What Michelle Yeoh’s win really says about Hollywood 

Following Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar win, critics are pointing out that it’s not only about her finally earning her moment in the spotlight — but more about Hollywood finally catching Yeoh.

Yeoh’s win, for her role as weary immigrant laundromat owner Evelyn Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, makes her the first Asian in the Motion Picture Academy’s 94-year history to take home the Best Actress award. No doubt it is a milestone.

But experts point out that given the decades when Yeoh was overlooked as a serious actor and the hard work he had to do to appear as a contender, the Oscar is also symbolic of the enduring obstacles that Hollywood’s gatekeepers face. against Asians and insufficient progress has been made.

Yes, they say, has succeeded in spite of them.

Michelle Yeoh Hot Dog Hands
Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”. Alison Riggs / A24

“It’s very important because of all those prejudices that exist in the industry and just racism,” said Ana-Cristina Ramón, director of the Entertainment and Media Research Initiative at UCLA. “To overcome all the barriers that exist in terms of academia – that’s huge.”

She said: “I think it’s almost insulting that they didn’t respect that in the past.”

The academy declined to comment.

Experts say the lack of acceptance of Yeoh, who is only now finding her blossoms after an international career spanning 40 years, is a reflection of how the Western film industry is rejecting and “othering” Asian actors. Shows systemic issues. Yeoh, an industry veteran, first became a respected action icon in Hong Kong cinema in the late 1980s. Along with many other Asian actors, his Hollywood debut with the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” involved stunts and martial arts.

Daryl Joji Maeda, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of “Like Water: A Cultural History of Bruce Lee,” said that Hollywood has embraced international stars such as Australians Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, who have many Oscars are wins and nominations. But for Asians, who have few opportunities and often turn to martial arts as a significant opportunity in Hollywood, there is a stigma. Even when martial arts-heavy films receive critical acclaim, such as 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, they rarely receive any nods for acting.

“If martial arts is one of the main routes into Hollywood for Asian actors, and martial arts actors are not taken seriously, then we have a situation that only acknowledges them on the sidelines and marginalises them. is,” he said.

Michelle Yeoh Inn "crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"
Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Sony Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Maeda said that although action stars of all races face similar perceptions, others are able to genre-jump with greater respect and ease.

Maeda said, “Actors of Asian descent who are martial arts stars are kind of immersed in the role.” “Tom Cruise could be an action star in the ‘Mission Impossible’ movies and an Oscar nominee for a serious role in ‘Born on the Fourth of July.'”

Anthony Ocampo, a professor of sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, also stated that there are double standards for Asian actors when extra rigorous physical training and skill is interpreted. He noted that there has been little acknowledgment of how Yeoh’s stunt work and action expertise have enriched his acting abilities. But when it comes to white actors who put their bodies into shape through weight fluctuations or coaching, their efforts are lauded as examples of dedication to the arts.

“When Natalie Portman got a certain body shape to be able to play a ballerina and learned ballet, people were applauding her. When Hilary Swank had to transform into a trans man or a boxer for ‘Million Dollar Baby’ Everyone was applauding, Ocampo said.” That kind of artistic appreciation or hard work isn’t recognized when an actor of color is doing something like Michelle.”

Ramon and Ocampo noted a similar lack of appreciation for Asian actors who have chosen multiple languages ​​for different roles, especially if they have accents. Throughout his career, which includes “Crouching Tiger”, 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” and the 2018 blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians”, Yeoh has performed in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

“If you have an Asian accent or any accent associated with an immigrant of color, you are seen as less intelligent, less smart, less nuanced. You are seen as very one-dimensional,” Ocampo said. “It doesn’t work the same way as, say, a British accent or a French accent.”

He said that the extra effort that Asian actors put in and the mental toll that it takes is comparable to the labor that people of color and immigrants do in America. “Everything everywhere,” Ocampo said.

Ocampo said, “What people don’t realize is that beneath the surface, there’s a lot of labor that goes into trying to be the same.” “It’s almost like actors of color have to play 50 different roles in one movie to get a nomination. That’s what Michelle did. That’s what Stephanie [Hsu] Did.”

Experts say the Academy Award spot has long been inaccessible to Asian actors. Only 1% of acting nominees are Asian, and four of them have taken home the award. In Yeoh’s category, another Asian actor, Merle Oberon, is nominated for the 1935 film “The Dark Angel”. But his background remained unknown until after his death, as he hid his South Asian roots during his career. But Louis Reiner, a white actor, won out for playing a Chinese slave in the controversial 1937 drama “The Good Earth.” Experts say the industry doesn’t need to pat itself on the back from this one win for Yeoh.

Ramon said that true progress comes from the continued upliftment of marginalized communities. And more work could be done to recognize voices of color, especially qualified filmmakers who may have little star power across categories. Maeda also said that if the industry went on for several decades without an Asian winner, it would have learned little from the movement for Asian representation.

“It’s too early to tell, but let’s hope we don’t have to ask the same question four decades from now,” he said.



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