Among many records tumbling this awards season, Malaysian Everything Everywhere star Michelle Yeoh is only the second Asian best actress nominee in 95 years of Oscars history, with a strong chance of becoming the first winner Sunday.
Only four Asian actors have ever won Oscars. That is the same number nominated this year alone, including Yeoh’s co-stars Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, and Hong Chau of The Whale.
While the best picture race has a clear favorite, the acting contests are incredibly tight.
For best actress, Cate Blanchett had long been favorite to win a third Oscar for Tar, but Everything Everywhere love could propel Yeoh to a historic first win by an Asian woman in the category.
Best actor is a three-horse race between Austin Butler (Elvis), Brendan Fraser (The Whale), and Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin).
And the supporting actress race may be even closer.
Behind the camera, best picture frontrunner Everything Everywhere – a $100 million box office hit with 11 Oscar nominations – has an Asian co-director, Daniel Kwan, and an Asian producer, Jonathan Wang.
“There’s something really beautiful about being able to show that if you put people in these roles, people will go see it,” Wang told AFP.
“Why is it only white characters who go on the fun adventures, but Asian and Black characters and Latino characters have to experience the suffering?
“It’s time to flip that on its head. And people are going to run to the box office.”
It is all a far cry from Hollywood’s past.
At the recent Screen Actors Guild awards, James Hong, the 94-year-old veteran who appears in Everything Everywhere, reflected on how white actors with “their eyes taped up” once played leading Asian roles because producers thought “the Asians are not good enough and they are not box office.”
“But look at us now,” he said, to a huge ovation.
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