Are You WOKE yet? Kudos to Michelle Yeoh for Trailblazing a First Win for an Asian as Best Lead Actress

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Congratulations to Michelle Yeoh for making history as the first Asian lead actress winner for “Everything, Everywhere All at Once” at the 95th Academy (Oscars) Awards. It was a thrilling, emotional win not only for Michelle, but as she says herself, but also a victory for all the people who look like her. It took 95 years for the Academy to finally recognize the work of an Asian actor in this category, and Yeoh couldn’t have been more deserving on merit and talent alone.

Her exact words at the Oscars, “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams, dream big, and dreams do come true.” In earlier previous awards where she took top honor in the Female Lead category such as the Golden Globes, Yeoh said the same thing, but paraphrased differently.

At the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards, she said in her acceptance speech, “This is not just for me, this is for every little girl that looks like me” and “We want to be seen, we want to be heard.”

Watershed Moment for Asians to be recognized
Our community hopes that this wonderful acknowledgement of talent is a watershed moment and will pave the way for other historically ignored groups in Hollywood whose exceptional work will be recognized and honored in the future.

We hope that a time will come when Asians no longer have to talk about cultural and ethnic empowerment and identification at the Academy and just address the project’s worth and simply thank the voters and those who’ve helped make their personal achievement come to fruition.

But until that time comes — we are not anywhere near there yet with only this first recognition. And despite some pushback from identity politics detractors, Yeoh was right and courageous to talk about this historical neglect.

A late pushback over Yeoh bringing this truth to light happened on the week of the Oscars. On her social media page, Yeoh retweeted (not her own words) nine screengrabs from a Vogue article titled “It’s Been Over Two Decades Since We’ve Had a Non-White Best Actress Winner. Will That Change in 2023?”

After much brouhaha over the truth and her simply stating a factual reality, Yeoh deleted that tweet due to mounting pressure.

But here is where Michelle proved that she is the heroic fighter like the characters she portrays in many of her movies. On the night of the Oscars, her very first words were, once again, about offering up hope that she would be an inspiration to people who look like her.

Bravo, Michelle! It should be noted that other minorities in the past have chosen not to recognize the “elephant in the room” (underrepresentation at the Academy and by extension Hollywood), and simply bask in the limelight for themselves after winning an award.

But Michelle chose a different route, one more selfless, activist-minded and truthful.

What is that truth? — that for almost a century in the U.S., Asian characters, actors, stories and storytellers have been received with indifference by Hollywood and the Academy.

The WOKE movement
It can be argued that the accolades received for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and Michelle Yeoh’s win would not have been possible if it were not for the current WOKE movement, this cultural-social movement today that has as its central theme – respect and mutual understanding and recognition for ALL people.

It’s very possible that if it weren’t for raised consciousness in American society and thus Hollywood (and voters of the academy) at this very moment, Yeoh’s superb acting would have been relegated to the dust bin as far as critics’ choice and recognition go.

Fortunately, the WOKE movement is gaining steam and moving forward, and we’re moving toward a more enlightened, informed and “educated” society.

What does this mean politically and concretely, to be WOKE? It means groups traditionally on the peripheries will not be splintered but come together as a united front to correct historical wrongs and indifference that left us at the peripheries of society for far too long.

In this specific case with Yeoh and the Academy, it means that Filipino, Japanese, Asian Indian, and our White, Black, and Latino voting members of the Academy, will come together and vote on MERIT and other factors like inclusion and historical neglect.

The “un-woke” will argue: “there should only be merit as a consideration for the awards.”

Really? But when has that ever been true – in Hollywood, the Academy or life in general.

This pushback or argument against WOKE is “code” for – “let’s keep it how it is, keep business as usual,” which has been historically far more challenging for people of color.

To be WOKE is to see what’s really going on. To be WOKE is action. It is to lift the veil of pretense.

Majority of Americans embrace WOKENESS
A recent USA Today/Ipsos Poll gave respondents a choice to pick one of two definitions of what they accept to be the meaning of WOKE.

Fifty six percent chose WOKE to mean “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustice.” Broken down by political party affiliation, three-fourths of Democrats and more than a third of Republicans accepted this meaning.

In contrast, 39% opted for the negative definition of WOKE, “to be overly politically correct and police others’ words.” Fifty-six percent of Republicans chose that definition.

More work to be done
While that USA Today/Ipsos Poll looks encouraging, there is still more work to be done toward greater equality, and not just at the Academy or Hollywood, but in every sector.

Breaking barriers and old-thinking is a process. And make no mistake there are major detractors. For now, Michelle Yeoh’s win and her courage to bring to light the underrepresentation element — instead of hiding the elephant in the room — is a start.

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