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What Michelle Yeoh’s Win Means for Asian Women Like Me

Michelle Yeoh attends the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 12, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California.

Many people were expecting an Everything Everywhere All at Once sweep at the 2023 Oscars over the weekend, and ultimately, a sweep is exactly what happened. The film has been riding this wave of creativity, intersectionality, and loving optimism, and although there were many phenomenal films on the docket, ultimately, this particular film earned each and every one of its wins and then some.

However, I want to specifically talk about Michelle Yeoh’s acceptance speech, because it brought both me and my mother to tears. Yeoh is my mother’s age, and they even look alike (which is to say beautiful, stunning, out of this world, etc.). In many ways, when I see Yeoh, I see not just my mother’s own story in this country, but the story of countless other Asian women who came to the United States and worked so hard to make their own lives here. These are the same Asian women who’ve been threatened and assaulted in public, who were told time and time again to keep their heads down while being expected to provide constant services for an American public that dehumanized them.

As for myself, seeing Yeoh go onstage and encourage all the “little boys and girls who look like me” to pursue their dreams made a part of my heart start to sing. I occupy a weird space regarding my identity as an Asian woman; being mixed and “white-passing”/ambiguous, by nature, my experiences are taken less seriously, and out of respect for the larger race dialogue as a whole in America, I tend to keep my thoughts to myself.

Yet I myself have been assaulted, both by strangers and people in my life, and I have experienced the pains of profiling all the same. Just the other day, I listened as a mutual friend loudly criticized the way Asian parents were parenting their child two tables over, only to then brag about how often they frequented Korean spas. It’s always been apparent to me that Asian identities in the West are often regarded in such a way that our actual stories are easily dehumanized, and instead our merit comes in what we can provide to be consumed.

Therefore, as a creative with an alienated identity, I have often felt as though there is no place for stories like mine to exist, and it has been difficult, in these last few years especially, to resuscitate my smothered creative spirit.

So, to hear Yeoh’s powerful words last night, it felt as if a pillar of solitude and pain that had been built up throughout my entire life was finally being shaken loose. It was short, earnest, to the point, and emphasized just how important it was that she won last night. Many people went to Twitter for lack of anything better to do just to complain that “race shouldn’t matter,” that Cate Blanchett should have won, and that Yeoh only won because she was Asian.

To them I want to say: How lucky a life you’ve lived, that you can see the world in such a callous, removed way! You will never know the triumph of seeing one of your own succeed after so many years of being told success to this degree was never an option. You will never know the relief of knowing that the ball has started to roll, and that so many others like us may now have more chances. I don’t know whether to pity or envy you, that you will never know.

To everyone out there who’s reading this and relates: I celebrate you, today, tomorrow, and forever. We will all have our moments, whatever they may be. Thank you, Michelle Yeoh, for everything you are, all at once.

(featured image: Karwai Tang/WireImage)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.

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