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Michelle Yeoh's moment is long overdue

Michelle Yeoh accepts the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role for <em>Everything Everywhere All at Once</em>.
Kevin Winter
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Michelle Yeoh accepts the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role for Everything Everywhere All at Once.

The Malaysian actress has been kicking ass on and off screen for decades, and is now sweeping the awards season for her starring role in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

After picking up a Screen Actors Guild award on Sunday (and dropping a well-timed F-bomb in her acceptance speech), the Oscars are one of her last stops on this impressive run.

This video contains profanity.

Who is she? You may know her most recently as Evelyn Wang from EEAO, the overwhelmed mother and laundromat owner who is grappling with her complicated relationship with her daughter.

  • Yeoh rose to fame for her roles in various Hong Kong martial arts films from the '80s and '90s, gaining notoriety for performing her own stunts and fight scenes. 
  • Her profile has only risen since, with some of her most notable films including Yes, Madam!; Supercop; Tomorrow Never Dies; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and Crazy Rich Asians
  • What's the big deal?

  • On Sunday, Yeoh became the first Asian to win the SAG award for best female actor in a leading role, following up on her Golden Globes win for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) 
  • The actor has also used her platform to tackle various social issues within the entertainment industry — from racism and sexism, to the ageism that female actors face in securing roles. 
  • Her star power has already proven its longevity: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has recently been re-released in theaters more than 20 years after it premiered. 

  • Want more profiles on actors redefining the narrative? Listen to the Consider This episode on Pamela Anderson


    What are people saying?

    In accepting her SAG award, Yeoh said this moment wasn't just about her:

    F***! Thank you! This is not just for me, this is for every little girl that looks like me ... Thank you for giving me a seat at the table, because so many of us need this. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. And tonight, you have shown us it is possible. 

    Yeoh told NPR's Ailsa Chang last year that she was going to fight for change:

    We just have to rock the boat and say, 'Look at us. Give us a chance.' Because guess what? We exist in your society. We are part of the society and very, very much an intricate part of this whole community. This is the only way we will get more opportunities — if we fight for it and no longer be able to say, 'OK, I'll turn the other cheek.' Dang — no more turning the other cheek.

    And here's the speech from her EEAO costar James Hong at the SAG awards on Sunday that succinctly addresses the situation:

    Author and cultural critic Jeff Yang told NPR that Yeoh's achievements are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

    Those of us who've known her and watched her from the very beginning of her career realize that this is not new for her, either, the sort of belated acknowledgement of her achievements, her talent, her skills. In a world where men, and white men in particular, are just naturally seen as kind of the center of the universe, there's something really lovely about the fact she's getting her due now ... But also something a little bit — again, why did it take so long?

    So, what now?

  • Yeoh also secured her first ever Oscar nomination, in the best actress category, making her the second-ever nominee of Asian descent in that category.
  • Multiple outlets have made their predictions for who might win the Academy Award, and following this SAG victory, the odds are leaning in Yeoh's favor for a history-making win. 
  • Yeoh recently signed on to join the upcoming film adaptation of Wicked, which will be directed by Jon M. Chu.
  • Learn more:

  • For a guide on what to watch, here are the best movies and TV of 2022, picked for you by NPR critics
  • Check out the review for this tender Irish drama that proves the quietest films can have the most to say
  • Read about one prominent producer known for everything she touches 'turning to gold' — can Dede Gardner do it again at the Oscars?
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.