Malaysians exult as Michelle Yeoh wins Asia’s first best actress Oscar

Ray Sherman and Ili Shazwani
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysians exult as Michelle Yeoh wins Asia’s first best actress Oscar Actress Michelle Yeoh holds her best actress Oscar at the Governors Ball following the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, March 12, 2023.
Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Updated at 11 p.m. ET on 2023-03-13

Malaysian Michelle Yeoh made history on Sunday night by becoming the first Asian to win an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role, delighting her compatriots and fans around the world.

The 60-year-old won the Oscar for her role in the film “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” in which she played the Chinese-American immigrant owner of a laundromat who alone can save existence.

In her acceptance speech, Yeoh, who had received her first Academy Award nomination, referred to her history-making feat.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that ... dream big, and dreams do come true,” she said.

Yeoh expressed gratitude to her mother, Janet Yeoh.

“I have to dedicate this to my mom, all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes and without them, none of us would be here tonight,” Yeoh said.

“She’s 84 and 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 bringing this home to you.”

Back in Malaysia, the elder Yeoh watched the ceremony live Monday morning at a cinema in Kuala Lumpur, which is 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles, where the Academy Awards were presented.

She was joined by friends and well-wishers, including Hannah Yeoh, Malaysia’s Youth and Sports minister who is not related, and Nancy Shukri, Women, Family and Community Development minister.

After her daughter won, Janet Yeoh told reporters that she was immensely proud, according to international news agencies.

“She’s a very hardworking girl, you know. Everybody knows it,” she said.

“Malaysia Boleh! [Malaysia Can!],” she said, in front of a poster of her daughter that said, “Pride of Malaysia.”

Janet Yeoh (center right), mother of actress Michelle Yeoh, celebrates her daughter’s Academy Award win, in Kuala Lumpur, March 13, 2023. [Arif Kartono/AFP]

Yeoh was the frontrunner for the Academy Award this year after winning at the Golden Globes, the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” collected a total of seven Academy Awards including best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best original screenplay and best editing.

A former Miss Malaysia, Yeoh has been acting for more than three decades. She got her Hollywood break in the James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies,” which was released in 1997, and won international acclaim for Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” in 2000.

More recently, she starred in the blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians,” in 2018.

Ben Kingsley was the first Asian to win the best leading actor Oscar for portraying Gandhi in the film of the same name.

‘Way to go, Michelle!’

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said the government and the nation congratulated Yeoh on her “highly coveted” win.

“In creating history by being not just the first Malaysian, but the very first Asian actress to win in this category, we take enormous pride in her achievement, adding to a long list of successes and capping a critically acclaimed acting career spanning decades,” he said in a Facebook post.

“Michelle’s illustrious and exemplary career in this field will certainly continue to be a source of great inspiration and motivation to our homegrown actors and actresses and provide even greater impetus to the growth of our local industry. Way to go, Michelle!”

Former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, which is part of the governing coalition, tweeted that Yeoh had made all Malaysians proud.

He then cheekily said, “So… is there a day off tomorrow?” echoing what many Malaysians on Twitter asked the prime minister after Yeoh’s win.

Meanwhile, Hannah Yeoh, the youth and sports minister, tweeted that the most inspiring words delivered by the Oscar-winner were: “Don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.”

In Los Angeles, Asian-American Victor Shi, tweeted: “Words can’t describe how special & important Michelle Yeoh’s win is for me & the entire Asian American community. Michelle Yeoh is an icon, legend, and inspiration. I’m in tears.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.