The 95th Academy Awards was a major night for Asian representation on the big screen with a series of milestones including the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress gong and the first ever Oscar wins for Indian productions.
Michelle Yeoh made history with her role as Evelyn Quan Wang in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” which topped the list by winning a total of seven awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for the co-starring Ke Huy Quan.
The Telegu-language historical fantasy film “RRR” became the first Indian feature film to win an Oscar with “Naatu Naatu” taking home the award for Best Original Song.
And India also won another Oscar this year, with Best Documentary Short for ‘The Elephant Whisperers’.
“Bring This Home”
Yeoh’s victory makes her the first woman of Asian descent to win a Best Actress Oscar and the second woman of color to receive the award. Actress Halle Berry, the only other woman of color to win Best Actress, presented the Oscar to Yeoh.
She is also the first person of Asian descent to win in a lead actor category, the fifth person of Asian descent to win in any acting category, and the first actress to win for portraying a speaking character. Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.
The historical significance was not lost on Yeoh as she delivered a passionate and defiant acceptance speech.
“For all the little boys and girls watching me tonight, it’s a beacon of hope and possibility,” she said, holding her statue aloft.
Yeoh dedicated his award to his 84-year-old mother.
“I’m taking this home to her. She’s watching right now in Malaysia, KL, with my family and friends. I love you guys. I’m taking this home to you,” she said.
Yeoh also thanked his “extended family in Hong Kong” for “letting me stand on your shoulders, giving me a boost so I could be here today.”
Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, the actress made her debut in a series of Hong Kong action films.
She rose to international fame after starring in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997 and Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000.
Recently, she gained additional notoriety for her roles in Marvel’s “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang-Chi,” but “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was her first Oscar nomination.
Stunt director Jacky Yeung, 58, who worked with Yeoh on “Tomorrow Never Dies,” told CNN she was particularly tenacious.
“One time she was so tired she couldn’t lift her leg. So she brought in a masseur to massage her so she could do the kick for the stage, but then she had pain for the leg. rest of the day,” he recalled.
“She’s no ordinary girl,” Yeung added.
Dorothy Lau, a film studies major at Baptist University, home to one of Hong Kong’s top media schools, called Yeoh’s victory “very significant”.
“It’s a celebration for Asian actors and actresses who are fighting for their presence in Hollywood,” she told CNN.
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Yeoh was among four Asian actors nominated for an Oscar this year, the most of all time.
His ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ co-star Ke Huy Quan also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and, like Yeoh, became the first actor to win an Oscar for portraying a speaking character. Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.
In his own emotional acceptance speech, the former child star, who worked for years behind the camera after roles for him dried up, recalled his remarkable journey to the big screen.
“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp and ended up here on the biggest stage in Hollywood,” the Vietnamese-born actor said. “I can’t believe this is happening to me. It’s the American dream.”
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The seven awards won by ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ are the highest for a film since Danny Boyle’s ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ won eight in 2009.
A first for India
With the Best Original Song win for “Naatu Naatu,” “RRR” became the first Indian feature film to win an Oscar.
An Indian composer once won the Oscar for best original song with ‘Jai Ho’ from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, but that film was a predominantly British production.
By contrast, “RRR” is an Indian production through and through – and a showcase for Tollywood, one of India’s non-Bollywood film industries that focuses primarily on Telegu-language productions rather than Hindi films.
After the win, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “The popularity of ‘Naatu Naatu’ is global. This will be a song to be remembered for years to come.”
“India is delighted and proud,” Modi added.
The team behind the film took to Twitter to celebrate the win.
“No words can describe this surreal moment. I dedicate it to all of our amazing fans around the world. Thank you!! Jai Hind,” they wrote, using a popular rallying cry that stands for “Victory India “.
The winning song was composed by MM Keeravani, with lyrics by Chandrabose.
“Naatu Naatu” beat both Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” in “Top Gun: Maverick” and Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Earlier in the evening, the Oscars highlighted “Naatu Naatu” with a musical performance recreating a famous energetic scene from the film that inspired countless memes.
Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, who hosted the performance, called the song a “total banger”.
Songwriter MM Keervaani said he “grew up listening to The Carpenters and now I’m with the Oscars”, before singing his acceptance speech to the tune of “Top of the World” by TheCarpenters. Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters
The Asian-American Diaspora Celebrates
Many Asian Americans in the film industry took to Twitter to share their excitement after the wins for “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once,” which is largely a story about Asian immigrants and the Asian-American experience.
Yeoh’s “Shang-Chi” co-star Simu Liu has praised Malaysian actress and Best Supporting Actor winner Quan. “Keep blazing a golden path and show us all what’s possible,” he said on Twitter.
Filipino-American actor JB Tadena, who starred in the ‘Hawaii Five-0’ television series, said he hopes the wins will lead to greater recognition for people who may have previously been overlooked.