Michelle Yeoh cemented Oscars history on Sunday night as she became the first Asian person to win for lead actress.
Yeoh took home the first Academy Award of her celebrated career, for best actress in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The honor came after decades of in martial arts and action movies like “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and “Yes, Madam.”
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh said from the stage. “This is proof that dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you that you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the zany sci-fi adventure centers on Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang, a middle-aged laundromat owner who, while being audited by the IRS, discovers she has to connect with versions of herself from parallel universes to prevent cataclysmic destruction.
Yeoh dedicated the award to her mom and all the mothers in the world. “They are the real superheroes, and without them, none of us will be here tonight,” she said.
At the Oscars, Yeoh is only the third Asian woman — following Yuh-Jung Youn for “Minari” and Miyoshi Umeki for “Sayonara” — and the first in the lead category to win an acting prize. She’s also just the second woman of color to win best actress after Halle Berry in 2002 for “Monster’s Ball.”
As she exited the stage, she shouted, “Thank you to the Academy — this is history in the making!”
Despite the stacked competition, Yeoh was the odds-on favorite to win because she was honored at nearly every precursory ceremony, including SAG Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and the Golden Globes. In clinching the trophy, Yeoh beat Cate Blanchett for “Tár,” Michelle Williams for “The Fabelmans,” Andrea Riseborough for “To Leslie” and Ana de Armas for “Blonde.”
“I wouldn’t be standing here tonight without the Daniels, without the amazing cast and crew [and] everyone involved with ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,'” she said. “Also, my extended family in Hong Kong, where I started my career. Thank you for letting me stand on your shoulders.”
The prize adds to a record awards season for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which became only the fifth film in history to sweep four major guild awards (DGA, PGA, SAG and WGA). At the Oscars, it scored a leading 11 nominations, including best picture, director for the Daniels and supporting actress for Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis (who won the prize) and best supporting actor Ke Huy Quan (who also won in his category). It won best picture and six other trophies.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” premiered nearly a year ago at SXSW, where it became a critical and commercial hit. The film eventually generated more than $100 million globally to become A24’s highest-grossing release of all time.