In a world always speaking of change – geopolitical, economic, climatic, and social – we still come across cases of shameless discrimination, be it passive or active. For a generation that prides itself on being inclusive, there remain barriers among people on every level, be it religious, based on sex, or based on gender. When stereotypes find their way into the workplace, it affects everyone involved and no one for the better.
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The Hollywood industry isn’t impervious to such stereotypes existing within its ranks. While most forms of discrimination are well hidden, it is the underlying stereotype that is more harmful than the act itself, for it threatens to create problems much bigger in the future. Smashing several such stereotypes, Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh rose to superstardom with her Oscar win as Best Actress and spoke about the problems she had had to face on her way up.
Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh looks back at her rise through the ranks in Hollywood
Starting her career off after she was entered into a pageant by her mother, Michelle Yeoh starred with action superstar Jackie Chan in several Hong Kong movies before breaking into Hollywood. Her Asian lineage did not help her case for making a strong career, and in a world of cinema focusing on male protagonists, women were mostly delegated to being damsels in distress, as Yeoh pointed out herself.
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When she started in 1984, she faced something just like that herself.
“When I started off in 1984, women were relegated to being the damsel in distress. We need to be protected, according to our guys. But then I would go, ‘No, guys, I think we can protect ourselves pretty well. And if push comes to shove, maybe I can protect you too,'” she said in an interview.
1997 saw Michelle Yeoh make it big with a lead role in Tomorrow Never Dies, playing a Chinese spy alongside superspy James Bond, and even saving his life on occasion.
“As Chinese spy Wai Lin in the 1997 film, Yeoh upended the very notion of the “Bond Girl,” saving 007’s life, rejecting his advances and standing on equal footing with the most alpha of males,” wrote People magazine.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) was another breakthrough for Yeoh.
Michelle Yeoh smashed records across levels to win Best Actress at the Oscars
When Yeoh was featured in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), a lot of stereotypes surrounding her Asian heritage were still prevalent.
“At that point, people in the industry couldn’t really tell the difference between whether I was Chinese or Japanese or Korean or if I even spoke English. They would talk very loudly and very slow,” she told People magazine.”I didn’t work for almost two years, until Crouching Tiger, simply because I could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward to me,” Yeoh added.
Things changed, gradually, however, as she soon entered the MCU in multiple roles. Her career definitely reached its zenith with her playing the lead in Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022), which stormed the Oscars.
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Yeoh smashed records to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once. The movie won several Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Original Screenplay. Yeoh became the first Asian to win the award, the first Malaysian to win any Academy Award, and the second woman of color after Halle Berry in 2002 to win Best Actress.