Last spring, at the 65th SFFILM Festival, we paid tribute to cinematic icon Michelle Yeoh, who wrapped up the year by earning an Oscar nomination. Will she finally win big at the 2023 Academy Awards?
In April 2022, SFFILM welcomed Michelle Yeoh to the 65th San Francisco International Film Festival for a special tribute to the enduring icon, which was hosted by award-winning actor Sandra Oh. In a joyful and wide-ranging onstage conversation, the pair celebrated the career and gifts of this unparalleled international movie star. Yeoh carved out a now-legendary path in Hong Kong cinema in the late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s, performing her own stunts in action films like Yes, Madam (1985), Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992), and Holy Weapon (1993).
Then came the release of director Ang Lee’s Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Whether you saw the film when it premiered in 2000, or joined SFFILM at the Castro Theatre for your first Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon viewing in the lead-up to the tribute, it’s clear why Yeoh gained critical recognition worldwide after this starring role. A standout supporting role in a little 1997 Bond film called Tomorrow Never Dies introduced her to even more audiences.
Called “one of the great international movie stars of the past quarter-century” by New York Times chief film critic A.O. Scott, Michelle Yeoh is a singular, tenacious talent—and that’s exactly why we honored her career last year. After decades of memorable roles, Yeoh has now earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her formidable performance in The Daniels’ (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) multiversal gut-punch Everything Everywhere All at Once. Will Michelle Yeoh win an Oscar on Sunday, March 12? SFFILM believes so—and forecasted it nearly a year ago.
Has Michelle Yeoh Been Nominated For An Oscar Before?
Despite her impressive and enduring career in film, Michelle Yeoh has never been nominated for an Oscar before. Even her BAFTA nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon didn’t push the Academy to recognize Yeoh over two decades ago. Now, with Everything Everywhere All at Once—the most-nominated film at the 2023 Oscars—Michelle Yeoh is finally being given the recognition she has long deserved on the awards circuit.
At the Golden Globes, Michelle Yeoh became the first Malaysian actor to win Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy. This is also Yeoh’s first time being nominated for the Critics’ Choice Awards, and her second BAFTA nomination. Her role as Evelyn Wang, the laundromat owner who’s just trying to navigate an IRS audit when she’s pulled into a multiverse-spanning adventure, is a career-defining one. And that’s saying something given Yeoh’s decades’ worth of accomplishments.
The role has landed her numerous awards from critics associations, in addition to that Golden Globe, and her fellow Everything Everywhere All at Once Oscar nominees—Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Stephanie Hsu—have all earned accolades for their ensemble work in the film. Most recently, Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman ever to win any individual category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG Awards). She won the honor for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, of course. But does that SAG win—both as an individual and as a member of the year’s most outstanding cast—indicate a promising night at the Oscars?
Can Michelle Yeoh Make Oscar History?
When Academy Award nominations were announced in January, Michelle Yeoh became the first Malaysian person, and the first Southeast Asian person, to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She’s also the second woman of Asian descent to be nominated in the category, with the first being biracial actor Merle Oberon. Nominated for her role in The Dark Angel in 1936, Oberon felt the need to conceal her biracial identity due to the pervasive racism in the studio system.
If Michelle Yeoh wins, it will be a landmark moment in film history. “[Other Asian folks] come up to me and they say, ‘You’re doing it for us’,” Yeoh said in an interview with TIME, which named her an icon of the year. And as the 2023 Oscars near, Yeoh is emerging as the category frontrunner. Even so, some film critics and cinephiles are still betting on two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, Best Supporting Actress; Blue Jasmine, Best Actress) to nab the award again for her starring role in Tár.
After receiving news of her nomination, Yeoh told Deadline that the most important part of her Oscars push was that it could show others, especially other Asian actors and filmmakers, that they can do it, too. “I’m very ordinary. I just work very hard,” Yeoh said. “There are so many brilliant actresses [and] actors out there who know that they have a seat at the table. All they have to do is find an opportunity and get there.”
So, can Michelle Yeoh make history? SFFILM thinks she can! And if Yeoh wins, we’ll be dancing just like she and Sandra Oh danced on stage at the Castro Theatre last year. It was a privilege to honor you, Michelle. You’ve got this—in every universe!
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