LOS ANGELES — Edward Dion Fariñas watches the Academy Awards every year, but the Filipino American didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction when hearing Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh’s awards were announced.
“I got a scream that I didn’t expect,” said Fariñas, who watched Sunday from his home in Austin, Texas, with “Everything Everywhere All at Once”-themed sweets from a local Asian-American-owned bakery.
“I was surprised by how big of an investment I made. It’s not even about the acting. It really allows us to feel like we can achieve things that aren’t usually in our lane.”
The Best Supporting Actor win and Quan’s comeback story from ’80s movie child stars, combined with Yeoh’s historic win as the first Asian Best Actress winner, gave viewers of Asian descent tears of happiness — and to smile. The “Everything Everywhere All At Once” co-stars bring the total number of Asians who have won acting Oscars to just six in the awards’ 95-year history.
For many Asian Americans, the film’s seven Oscars, including Best Picture, feel like a watershed moment — that Hollywood is getting past seeing them only in tropes. It represents an opportunity for optimism after three years of anti-Asian hatred fueled by the pandemic.
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. Daniels), who won Oscars for best director and original screenplay, the story centers on a dazzling Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, a damaged laundromat owner preparing for an IRS audit. Meanwhile, she struggles with an unhappy husband (Quan), her critical father (James Hong), and an openly lesbian daughter (Stephanie Hsu).
When Yeoh said during her Oscar acceptance that the award was for kids who look like her, the message went “straight to the heart,” said Jasmine Cho, who is Korean-American.
“Now I look like I’m in my 60s,” said the 39-year-old. “I want to be like Michelle. She’s my role model forever bad woman.”
Cho, from Pittsburgh, is nationally recognized for her cookie-cutter portraits of forgotten and famous Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and has garnered social media attention for her tributes to Yeoh and Quan. He hopes to give them the cookies one day because he has been so inspired by their performances and how they have endured.
“I feel like they’ve already made history with it being like the highest-grossing movie and all the other awards they’ve received,” Cho said of the possibility that the two would not have won the Oscars. “Well, yeah, I’d be kind of disappointed” if they hadn’t won. “But in my mind, they’ve already won.”
Yer Vang, a Hmong American living in Minneapolis, was moved to tears by Quan and Yeoh’s acceptance speeches. He remembers walking out of the theater hoping for that script. To actually see it happen was “phenomenal”.
Quan’s remarks about coming to the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee and living in a refugee camp especially resonated because that’s what her parents lived through.
“It’s crazy because … this is my mother’s story,” Vang said.
But all of the film’s Oscars (it also won Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis and Editing) mean a lot to Asian Americans, she said. “It lets the community know that we’ve done enough … and we deserve to be celebrated, whether it’s on the highest pitches or just back home.”
Norman Chen, CEO of The Asian American Foundation, let out a scream and a fist bump for every Oscar the film won. Among the foundation’s initiatives are scholarship and fellowship programs with the Sundance Institute. He described the impact of the victories as enormous.
This will elevate the narrative … to create more future actors, directors, screenwriters” of Asian descent, Chen said.
“The recognition is finally there. Right across society, people will value even more in education with more interest in Asian and Asian American history. It will change the mindset of Asian Americans who are foreigners.”
Yeoh’s achievement was particularly poignant given Hollywood’s history of anti-Asian discrimination. Merle Oberon, nominated for best actress in 1935 for “The Dark Angel,” hid her South Asian heritage and went white, according to birth records discovered after her death. In 1937, Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong suffered the biggest disappointment of her life when she was turned down for the lead role of a Chinese villager in “The Good Earth.” Louise Reiner, who was white, was cast, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.
The only previous Asian Oscar winners for acting were Miyoshi Umeki (“Sayonara”), Ben Kingsley (“Ghandi”), Haing S. Ngor (“The Killing Fields”) and Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”), according to Oscar historians. Kingsley alone was up for a leading role.
“Everything everywhere all at once” hopefully sends a message that those days of perceiving Asians as “meek not strong, followers not leaders” are behind us, Chen said.
“This changes this whole mindset for the community — even for our families. I bet a lot of Asian American families will be more supportive if their kids want to be actors or directors,” Chen said. “It’s exciting to be seen and appreciated for who we are and where we are.”
This story has been corrected to state that Yuh-Jung Youn won an Oscar for “Minari,” not “Parasite.”
For more coverage of this year’s Academy Awards, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/academy-awards
Terry Tang is a member of the Associated Press Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ttangAP