Earlier today, Michelle Yeoh received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her role in the mind-bending hit Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s been a long time coming: Yeoh has been acting for nearly half a century and steadily built an iconic career in various martial arts films and action roles.
Naturally, a lot of people have been celebrating the achievement, while others are confused at her being called the first person who “identifies as Asian” to be nominated for best actress at this year’s Academy Awards. The wording is pretty important, though.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) January 24, 2023
While Yeoh is being called the first Asian-identifying actor to be nominated in the best actress category, there have been been a few people with Asian ancestry who have secured nominations (and awards). Merle Oberon was first nominated in 1936 after her role in The Dark Angel, though she reportedly hid her ancestry while working in Hollywood. Actress Vivien Leigh also came from western Asian ancestry on her mother’s side, though she also did not identify as Asian.
With Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, and Hong Chau all making the cut, I believe this is the most Asian actors who have ever Oscar-nominated in a single year.
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) January 24, 2023
Despite the confusing phrasing, it’s still an important milestone that has taken much too long to reach. Yeoh’s performance and the subsequent nomination are a win for under-represented minorities in the industry. The actress told The Hollywood Reporter after learning of her nominations, “It’s taken a long time. But I think this is more than me. At the present moment, constantly, all the time, having Asians walking up to me saying, ‘You can do it, you’re doing it for us.’ It’s like, ‘I understand. I totally understand.’ All this time, they’ve not been recognized, they’ve not been heard.”
Hopefully, fellow award shows can follow in the Academy’s footsteps!