Michelle Yeoh made history at the Oscars on Sunday, becoming the first actress of Southeast Asian descent to win the Academy Award for best actress. Yeoh won for her role as Evelyn Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which also won best picture.
Yeoh is known for her roles in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” in the James Bond franchise, and “Crazy Rich Asians” Despite decades of work and dozens of roles, this is Yeoh’s first Oscar nomination.
In her Oscar-winning role, Yeoh plays a Chinese immigrant who can explore alternative lives in other universes.
When she got up on stage to accept her award she received a standing ovation. “Thank you, thank you. For all the little girls and boys who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility,” she said in her speech. “This is proof to dream big, and dreams do come true.”
“And ladies, don’t let anybody ever tell you you are past your prime,” Yeoh, who is 60, continued. The comment came after CNN anchor Don Lemon received backlash for saying presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was past her prime at age 51. Lemon later apologized.
“Never give up,” Yeoh said, as the audience erupted in cheers. She then thanked her directors, the production company A24 and the cast and crew, and dedicated the award to her mom and “all the moms in the world.”
“They are really the superheroes, and without them, none of us would be here tonight,” she said.
Yeoh said her 84-year-old mom is watching in Malaysia with friends and family. “I love you guys, I’m bringing this home to you,” she said. And she thanked her “extended family” in Hong Kong, where she got her start in acting.
Her family and friends watched the Oscars at a large viewing party in Kuala Lumpur, with the crowd erupting and many embracing her mom when Yeoh won.
Yeoh’s mom said she had no doubt her daughter would win. “She’s a very hard-working girl,” she said a news conference at the watch party.
One of Yeoh’s nieces called it a “jaw-dropping moment,” to see her win. “I was speechless; I cried,” she said. “It happened so quickly. We’re so happy that she won, that our auntie won.”
Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim congratulated Yeoh on behalf of the country where she was born. “The Government joins the nation in expressing warmest and heartiest congratulations to Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh for winning the highly coveted Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles today,” he tweeted.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” was written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, a duo known as The Daniels, who also won the Oscars for best director and best screenplay.
Yeoh’s co-star Ke Huy Quan, who got his start as a child actor in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies,” took home best supporting actor award, becoming just the second performer of Asian descent to win that award.
And longtime film star Jamie Lee Curtis won best supporting actress for her role in the film — her first Oscar. The film also won for best editing.