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KOLI: Why Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar win is monumental

Column: Talk More

Michelle Yeoh's best actress win at the Oscars symbolizes a significant victory for the Asian American and women communities.  – Photo by @TheAcademy / Twitter

The 95th Academy Awards included many important wins. One in particular that stands out is Best Actress Michelle Yeoh, the lead in the Best Picture film, "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Yeoh rose to fame in Malaysia at the age of 21. She is multitalented and specializes in many arts, including ballet, martial arts, piano and acting.

After winning Miss Malaysia in 1983, Yeoh landed her first movie role in the Chinese film, "The Owl vs. Bombo" the following year.

Over the years, Yeoh had iconic roles in movies such as "Crazy Rich Asians," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Tomorrow Never Dies" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

On March 12, she became the first Asian woman to win Best Actress at the Oscars. Previously, actress Halle Berry was the only woman of color to receive this award for the film, "Monster’s Ball."

Yeoh’s film, "Everything Everywhere All at Once," reflects on the dynamics between immigrant parents and their children. Not to mention, it showcases her impressive martial arts skills in addition to intricate editing and a clever soundtrack.

The predominantly Asian-identifying cast — consisting of Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and James Hong — bring both an emotional and comedic appeal to the film, showing how life and family dynamics are not simply black and white.

For me, the overall message of the film is that we are all experiencing life for the first time and therefore are capable of making mistakes regardless of what stage of life we are in. Despite our differences and the situations we face, love will always prevail.

This historic win is particularly important for women and people of color communities.

In her acceptance speech, Yeoh speaks to "all the little boys and girls who look like (her)" and says, "dream big, and dreams do come true." Seeing Yeoh on the big screen as a woman of color inspires younger generations to pursue their dreams.

A study shows that in 2022, 33 percent of films in the entertainment industry had "sole female protagonists" — this means less than half of the population of female actresses have significant roles in film.

It is remarkable that Yeoh has been acting for more than three decades now, and at 60 years of age, she is still as strong as ever — she was the oldest female nominee out of the five actresses in the Best Actress category.

The public tends to hold older actresses to harsher standards, making it difficult for them to succeed in the industry as they get older. Yeoh says, "Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. You never give up."

This speaks volumes to both the old and the young because Yeoh proves that as long as hard work and effort are being made, people can accomplish anything they desire.

The lack of proper Asian representation is a significant issue in Hollywood. Only 7.2 percent of the "speaking or named characters" on screen in 2019 were Asian and of the most successful movies of that year, 32.5 percent of the Asian characters were women.

Not only is race inequality present in Hollywood, but so is gender inequality. It is more difficult for women, especially women of color, to make it big in the film industry compared to their male peers.

But Yeoh’s win encourages individuals who may feel discouraged to work in a white male-dominated industry by proving that hard work will not go unrecognized.

As a result, both women and people of color communities will feel like they belong in the film industry, and she urges people to always do the right thing.

Her influence goes beyond the film industry and reaches people from different communities worldwide. For example, Yeoh’s involvement in the United Nations Development Programme helps empower the underprivileged and unfortunate and prepares them for obstacles such as natural disasters.

Yeoh uses her power and position in a positive way that inspires others to be more open-minded, confident and determined. Time after time, she has taught us that no matter how old a person is or what situation they are facing in their life, dreams do not have an expiration date.

Moreover, the success of other people should not intimidate us, but it should encourage us to work harder to achieve our own dreams.

Vidhi Koli is a first-year student in the School of Arts and Sciences, where she is undecided. Her column, 'Talk More,' runs on alternate Thursdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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