Don't underestimate the importance of Michelle Yeoh winning Best Actress at the Oscars

finally, an asian woman has won best actress at the oscars
'Don't underestimate power of Michelle Yeoh win' Leon Bennett - Getty Images

Michelle Yeoh just became the first Asian woman ever to win the award for Best Actress at the Oscars. “This is history in the making,” she said in her winners speech, and I agree.

This year's Oscars felt like an never-before-seen celebration of Asian representation with awards for Asian-led films like Everything Everywhere All At Once, RRR and The Elephant Whispers, a performance of Telugu-language song ‘Naatu Naatu’ and special appearances from stars like Deepika Padukone and Malala Yousafzai.

It’s a far-cry from recent years when the Oscars and similar awards ceremonies came under fire for nominating very few people of colour for their awards. In 2015 and 2016, the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” trended after all acting nominations were given exclusively to white people, and celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee vowed to boycott the awards if diversity didn’t improve.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Michelle said during her winning speech, showing exactly why diversity and inclusion matters.

michelle yeoh is the first asian woman to win best actress at the oscars
Michael Tran - Getty Images

Growing up as a south Asian woman in the UK, I rarely saw people who looked like me on screen. And when I did, they were often cringe-worthy stereotypes (think Apu from The Simpsons and Raj from The Big Bang Theory) that didn’t represent me or the people I knew. This left me, and many other young Asians, feeling othered and like we didn’t belong. This is why this year's Academy Awards felt so special.

Many who feel similarly have taken to social media to applause the ceremony and wins for Asian representation. “Seeing Asian representation in film is so healing but see Asian talent acknowledged on such a prestigious platform has literally left my little heart brimming over,” wrote one viewer.

“My inner child is jumping with joy to see people that look like me celebrated for their hard work and talent, it soothes such a deep feeling of inadequacy and shame from years of racism and micro aggressions, I’m just so wildly happy,” they added.

Another said, “From yellow face in the media to actual Asian representation and winning an Academy Award. Let this be a reminder that every person of color deserves to be seen and to be properly represented to tell our stories whether it be on camera or the writing room."

"Michelle Yeoh received the Best Actress award from Halle Berry, the only other woman of color who has won Best Actress in 95 years of Oscars history. I still remember crying when Halle Berry won, not knowing it would take another 21 years," another wrote.

Someone else shared, "I know representation can sometimes feel very ill-fitting & tokenized, but Everything Everywhere All At Once was so deeply Asian, but also so deeply universal in its storytelling and tonight’s win feels right. So happy."

It really does feel like the film and TV industry is improving when it comes to Asian representation, with last year seeing shows with Asian-leads like Ms Marvel, Bridgerton and Never Have I Ever also receiving tonnes of applause.

While there is further to go in bettering recognition for people of colour at the Oscars – especially after Angela Bassett and Stephanie Hsu lost the Best Supporting Actress award to Jamie Lee Curtis, despite her having a much smaller role in Everywhere All At Once compared to her cast mate, Stephanie – this year's ceremony felt like a much-needed step in the right direction for representation, inclusivity and diversity. And it’s about time!

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