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“Beacon of hope-"as Yeoh makes history at the Oscars 2023

Yeoh has become the first south-east Asian to win the award, winning for her role in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’, but her win also puts a spotlight on diversity in film.

Michelle Yeoh - Toronto International Film Festival 2011 Image Credits: Marco Manna



Michelle Yeoh has become the first southeast Asian winner of the best actress Oscar at Sunday night’s ceremony in Los Angeles.
Yeoh won the award for her role as Evelyn Wang in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,’ sending many in the Asian community into a state of celebration.
Yeoh acknowledged, when speaking with the BBC, that the award is not solely for her but for “the whole Asian community”.
She solidified this in her speech, saying "For all the little boys and girls who look like me, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities.", raising her trophy as the first Asian and second woman of colour to be named best actress, in the Oscars 95-year history.


Michelle Yeoh's Instagram Oscars Post


In her speech, Yeoh dedicated the award to her mother, Janet Yeoh, who was watching from Kuala Lumpur in Yeoh’s native Malaysia. In a phone call after Yeoh’s win, Janet said to her daughter, “Malaysia boleh!"—which means nothing is impossible.
Janet Yeoh’s sentiment is echoed throughout Asia, with around 350,000 posts congratulating Yeoh on Twitter Asia. The King and Queen of Malaysia also congratulated the actress in an Instagram post, saying: “We’d like to express our pride and joy over Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh’s achievement that has placed Malaysia on the world map.”


The King and Queen of Malaysia congratulate Michelle on her win


Natasha Joibi, a Malaysian communications strategist based in Glasgow, has described how “proud” Malaysians, and indeed the Asian community, are of the star.
“Malaysians are proud of her win. I’m glad that she's finally getting the recognition she deserves. It's a big win for diversity. Having someone from the Asian community making it big on an international stage while breaking many glass ceilings, it's very inspiring,”, she said.
Whilst Yeoh’s win has evoked global jubilance, it puts a spotlight on the lack of diversity in
the Malaysian film industry.
Yeoh was born in Malaysia, but her career as an actress never flourished until she relocated to Hong Kong. Malaysian filmmaker Sarah Lois Dorai noted that while many Malaysians are thrilled for Yeoh, it acts as a reminder of the inequality in the Malaysian film industry. She said:
“There is too much red tape and politicised issues that surround the film and arts industry in Malaysia that it stifles homegrown talent. "Whilst we celebrate all that Yeoh has achieved, it’s difficult not to see our own issues surrounding diversity and equal representation as an industry in Malaysia staring right back at us.”
Joibi echoed this, saying: “Michelle’s win has raised many much-needed conversations about the lack of support for the local Malaysian film industry, as well as racial equality in Malaysia. Michelle’s success begs the question of whether she would have enjoyed the same level of success if she had stayed in Malaysia.”

However, the Oscars are also notably lacking in diversity. The awards show has perennially failed to recognise many performers of colour, which sparked the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015.
While the number of POC nominees has risen from 8% to 17% since the movement's inception, according to research published by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a think tank run out of the University of Southern California (USC), the lack of diversity remains blatant.

Joibi noted, “Social inequities permeate our daily lives. And the Oscars, watched by millions every year for almost a century, just put those inequities under the microscope. Ethnic minority performers have to overcome more barriers to reach the same level of success as white performers.”

Despite racial inequality still staining the Oscars, Yeoh’s win indeed does serve as a “beacon of hope” for many.
Dorai said, “In the past, East Asian narratives were perceived as stories that were not box office material. The world has changed with the internet; people are hungry to see more faces that accurately represent them and people are hungry to learn more about others. Yeoh's win is an indication of this change.”
“It’s a stride towards diversity and inclusion. It gives people an indication that an achievement like that is possible for Asians, who have been on the sidelines for so long. Yeoh's win sets that precedent. It gives the Asian community hope.”

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