Written by Katie S., Spring 2023 NCAAT Youth Ambassador
Each year, we all turn our attention to the big screens, searching for a movie, in hopes of catching a reflection of ourselves. It doesn’t have to be the big blockbuster theatrical performance of a lifetime – a movie with the right amount of intrigue woven into a heartfelt narration will suffice. But this past year, one particular film has captured worldwide attention: Everything Everywhere All at Once. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the story follows Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh), a frazzled laundromat owner with a fractured family, swept up in a manic multiverse adventure as she is unceremoniously given eccentric powers to protect the fantastical realms from bewildering dangers. Though comedies are normally at a disadvantage when it comes to recognition, the complex film exploring generational trauma, the immigrant experience, familial relationships, and identity won the crowd with its subversive and idiosyncratic storytelling. In fact, the unlikely cast and crew at the 95th Annual Academy Awards walked away with seven Oscars, including four of the ‘Big Five’ – best picture, best director, best actress, and best screenplay.
The Oscars were not only a colossal night for the film’s crew, but more importantly, a watershed moment for Asian American representation in the United States. By blending science fiction, hot dog fingers, and everything bagels with the story of an ordinary immigrant family, the metaphysical comedy brings an emphasis onto the millions of immigrants facing hardships. On the same note, the film validates and humanizes the Asian American immigrant experience – one commonly marked with cultural and financial troubles. But the film’s success did not only stem from its original contortion of key concepts: The actors and actresses who brought the film alive and delivered mesmerizingly authentic performances finished the job.
The two main cast members who stole the night away were none other than Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan. Yeoh, a veteran actress long praised for her raw talent and martial arts skills became the first Asian woman to be honored as best actress in the Award’s 95-year history. Yeoh recognizes the significance of her award as she proudly declares in her acceptance speech, “For all the little boys and girls who look like me, watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities.” Beacon of hope and possibilities, exactly what Yeoh’s Oscar represents: Proof that with a dream and determination, anything can happen. Yeoh’s recognition may seem hard to beat – wait until you hear about Quan’s.
Quan’s journey in the film industry is long and battered, making his monumental Oscar award the comeback story of the year. Immediately after his name was announced for best supporting actor, Quan’s eyes swelled with tears. Just like Quan’s character Waymond, the multiverse-traveling husband with a dual persona, Quan’s background is complex. He explains in his acceptance speech, “My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow, I ended up on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in movies […] This, this is the American Dream.” But the American Dream, for Asian Americans, is not without its conflicts. In the post-awards interview, Quan explained his debut name, Jonathan Quan, almost forty years ago: “I remember when it got really tough, my manager told me that maybe it would be easier if you were to have an American sounding name […] I was so desperate for a job that I would do anything […] Tonight to see Rihanna open that envelope and say Ke Huy Quan, that was a really, really special moment.” Although having early success as a child actor in the late 80s, Quan’s acting gigs quickly dried up as Hollywood consistently denied roles to Asian men. The roles that were given, were trivial and fell under the stereotypical tropes of Asian American men, belittling their worth in America. However, as Asian American communities and allies remain on this long journey of empowering neglected voices, the movie industry has responded.
One after another, like a domino effect, the public was finally given films that not only featured Asian American actors but also portrayed quintessential aspects of the Asian American experience.
Yeoh and Quan’s story goes to show how important representation is. As many now look up to the historic feats of Yeoh and Quan, I have adopted them as my patronus: Yeoh, a majestic and fierce peacock while Quan, a warm and heartfelt golden retriever. One last thing, if you haven’t watched Everything Everywhere All at Once, do yourself a favor, grab yourself a bagel and a tissue box, and do so. Please.
Michelle’s Quote from a transcript: https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/michelle-yeoh-accepts-the-oscar-for-lead-actress-transcript
Quan’s Oscar speech from transcript: https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/ke-huy-quan-accepts-the-oscar-for-supporting-actor-transcript
Quan in after awards interview (video): Ke Huy Quan Recalls Losing Health Insurance, Searching For Roles Prior To Oscars Win
About the author:
Katie (she/her) was born and raised in Cary, North Carolina. She enjoys painting, exercising, cooking, and traveling and is a connoisseur in all things film.
NCAAT’s blog is a chance for NCAAT staff and community members to write about topics relating to their personal passions, interests, and the Asian American community in North Carolina. The views expressed in NCAAT’s community blog posts are not endorsed by NCAAT nor representative of NCAAT’s official stances or views.