You know what Sarah wrote earlier about Angela Bassett wanting the Oscar and being disappointed about not winning the Oscar? And not hiding the fact that she was disappointed, which is her right? Well Michelle Yeoh wanted it too and she wasn’t hiding it either. Moments before the Best Actress award was announced, the camera showed her reaching across and gripping Jamie Lee Curtis’s hand. There’s nothing nonchalant about that image. Because there was no guarantee. The Best Actress Oscar race was tight - and some experts were leaning towards Cate Blanchett whose performance as Lydia Tar now has a cult following.
Michelle was nervous. You could see it. And then she was overcome with emotion, maybe even some disbelief. Because…well… it actually IS hard to believe. The likely outcome was for Cate’s name to be called. "Generations of boys and girls who look like me”, as Michelle said in the opening moments of her speech, have been conditioned to expect the Cate outcome. That’s why Michelle spoke to them first. Them is me. I’ve been watching the Oscars for decades and last night was the first time anyone has ever seen an Asian woman win the Best Actress Oscar. I don’t even know if I ever bothered imagining it because it just…didn’t seem like something that was even imaginable?
The fact is, Michelle is only the second woman of colour to win in this category. That’s just two women of colour in 95 years, the other being Halle Berry. Who presented to Michelle! And I’m not trying to say that Halle was there to jack Michelle’s moment, of course not. But the fact is, with their history and the Academy’s history, it had to have been a moment for Halle too, because she has spoken many times, in the years since her Oscar win in 2002, about her disappointment that her win “didn’t open doors”. And while her acceptance speech back then specifically cited Black women, like Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll, and Angela Bassett, who ironically was in the audience last night, there’s no doubt her excitement for Michelle was also balanced out by her own experience of having to wait over two decades to see another woman of colour now join her in this very small club of two. Both things can be true.
hereâ€™s Halle Berry tearfully presenting Michelle Yeoh her Best Actress Oscar. theyâ€™re the only two women of color to win the award in 95 years pic.twitter.com/nsM2qFCA1l— Spencer Althouse (@SpencerAlthouse) March 13, 2023
Just like it can also be true that having perspective does not necessarily have to diminish the achievement – and it’s been almost an entire year! From the moment that Everything Everywhere All At Once came out of SXSW last March, Michelle has been a contender. The earliest contender. Even before Cannes, before the fall festival season, her performance generated Oscar buzz – and she was able to sustain it through the year, culminating last night with the win. So you could say that she’s had a lot of time to think about what she might say if it actually were to happen. She chose to stay consistent with one of the themes of the film: the relationship between mothers and daughters, specifically immigrant mothers and daughters, dedicating her award to her own mother who was watching in Kuala Lumpur.
They were both wearing white. Which only makes me want to cry even more. Because I have a feeling that was no accident.