People in Malaysia have responded with joy and jubilation after Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian to win the best actress Oscar, calling the Malaysian performer the “pride of Malaysia” and an “inspiration to all women and Malaysians”.
Yeoh’s family and friends at a viewing party in Kuala Lumpur screamed and cheered as her win was announced on Monday.
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All eyes were on her surprised and delighted mother, Janet Yeoh.
“She’s a very hardworking girl, you know. Everybody knows it,” she said at a news conference afterwards in front of a poster of her daughter that said “Pride of Malaysia”.
The actress’s niece, Vicki Yeoh, looked equally stunned as the announcement was made, clutching her face and letting out a huge scream as the tears welled up.
“Jaw dropping moment,” she said. “I was speechless. I cried. It happened so quickly, and we are so happy that she won, that our auntie won.”
Yeoh, 60, who was born to Chinese Malaysian parents in the northern city of Ipoh, won the award for her portrayal of Chinese-American laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, dealing with family turmoil in the science-fiction comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once.
It was Yeoh’s first Oscar nomination, and she had been widely regarded as the front runner.
Yeoh made her Hollywood breakthrough when she was cast as the first ethnic Chinese Bond girl in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies opposite Pierce Brosnan. She has also starred in the 2000 martial arts film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the 2005 period drama Memoirs of a Geisha and the 2018 romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians.
In her acceptance speech, Yeoh called her win a “beacon of hope and possibilities” for “all the boys and girls who look like me”. Dedicating her triumph to her mother and all the mothers in the world, she also said, “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim praised Yeoh’s success, called her career illustrious and exemplary, and said it would continue to inspire Malaysians.
“In creating history by being not just the first Malaysian but the very first Asian actress to win in this category, we take enormous pride in her achievement, adding to a long list of successes and capping a critically acclaimed acting career spanning decades,” Anwar said in a statement on his Facebook page.
13 March 2023
The Government joins the nation in expressing warmest and heartiest congratulations to Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh for winning the highly coveted Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 95th Academy Awards in Los Angeles today.#MalaysiaMADANI pic.twitter.com/7uc3pbzEox
— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) March 13, 2023
Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh, who was at the viewing, immediately posted on social media: “Most inspiring quote for all of us aunties – ‘Ladies, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you are past your prime.'”
Most inspiring quote for all of us aunties – “Ladies, don’t let anybody ever tell you that you are past your prime” – Michelle Yeoh
— Hannah Yeoh (@hannahyeoh) March 13, 2023
Rozaidi Jamil, president of the Malaysian Artists Association, told the FMT website that Yeoh has set a new bar.
“Yeoh’s achievements serve as an inspiration and a reminder that talent and hard work can take you far, regardless of your background or where you come from,” he said.
On Malaysian social media, Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh was trending. Yeoh was awarded the title of “Tan Sri” by the Malaysian king in 2013, one of the country’s highest honours for civilians.
“History created for Asia and Malaysia,” wrote Syed Saddiq, a legislator. “Such incredible talent is a testament to how big of an inspiration she is to all women and Malaysians.”
Congratulations Tan Sri Dato' Seri Michelle Yeoh on your win!
History created for Asia and Malaysia 🇲🇾
She’s the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress Award in Oscars!
Such incredible talent is a testament to how big of an inspiration she is to all women and Malaysians. pic.twitter.com/QqhsviXVub
— Syed Saddiq (@SyedSaddiq) March 13, 2023
Legislators Sim Tze Sin and Wee Ka Siong also thanked Yeoh for “breaking glass ceilings” for Asian and Malaysian women and praised her for being an icon for resilience and perseverance.
Twitter user @AreKayRK said Yeoh’s win was “well deserved” and wrote, “Thank you for making Malaysia proud.”
Twitter user @EmilyJaneDancer said the importance of the award went beyond Yeoh herself.
“As a Malaysian who is in the US for grad school and is a dancer in the tough competitive performing arts field, Michelle Yeoh’s win and speech means EVERYTHING,” she wrote.