Michelle Yeoh made history Sunday by winning the Academy Award for best actress.
Yeoh took home the Oscar for his starring role in the psychedelic comedy-drama «Everything Everywhere All at Once.» Her award makes her the first Asian actress to win in the category.
«To all the little boys and girls watching tonight that look like me, this is a beacon of hope and possibility,» Yeoh said in his acceptance speech. «This is proof that dreams are dreamed big and dreams do come true.»
Yeoh beat out Cate Blanchett for «Tár», Ana de Armas for «Blonde», Andrea Riseborough for «To Leslie» and Michelle Williams for «The Fabelmans».
Echoing the theme of her film, which focused heavily on immigrant motherhood, Yeoh paid homage to her own mother.
«I have to dedicate this to my mom, to all the moms in the world,» said an emotional Yeoh. «Because they really are the superheroes, and without them none of us would be here tonight.»
Yeoh’s Oscar is particularly significant given the history of Asian actors and the Academy Awards. Yeoh, who was born in Malaysia, is only the second Asian actress to be nominated in her category; however, she is considered the first «openly» Asian actress with the distinction. Merle Oberon, who received a nomination for the 1935 film «The Dark Angel,» hid his South Asian identity throughout his film career. And Luise Rainer, a white actress, won the category for playing a Chinese slave in the 1937 drama «The Good Earth.»
The accolade caps a successful awards season for Yeoh, who garnered critical acclaim for her portrayal of frazzled matriarch Evelyn Wang, an immigrant mother and laundromat owner unexpectedly tasked with saving the multiverse from destruction. Yeoh took home best lead performance this month at the Independent Spirit Awards in the first year the ceremony combined her acting categories to be gender-neutral. Among several other awards, she received the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy in January.
While Yeoh has been celebrated as a rising star in Hollywood for «Everything Everywhere,» she is an industry veteran, with a career spanning decades, countries, and languages. She first made a name for herself in Hong Kong cinema, becoming a prolific and respected martial arts action icon in the late 1980s and 1990s. As an actor who managed to defy the typical «damsel in distress» stereotypes in action movies and instead often portrayed crime-fighting heroes, Yeoh became known as a pioneering feminist in entertainment.
«I work very hard. I make very clear decisions that lead me to movies that are very supportive or about strong women, and I usually steer clear of movies that don’t show women the way I think they are,» Yeoh told NBC. News about her professional career.
Yeoh burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1997 with the James Bond film «Tomorrow Never Dies» and has since appeared in several box office hits, including «Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon» in 2000 and «Crazy Rich Asians» in 2018. But “Everywhere Everywhere” was the first movie in which he played the lead role.
Yeoh credited the decades of fervent activism within the Asian community with making it possible for Asian actors, once relegated to bit or supporting roles, to appear so prominently in a film.
“A lot of us have been working to push the boundaries and try to make it happen, because it’s so simple,” Yeoh said. “We believe in ourselves. We believe in our Asian talent. We believe that we all have stories that need to be told and accepted.»