By Emily Wang, Opinions Contributer
Graphic by Sophie Song
“Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth.” These were the viral words uttered by Will Smith at the 94th Academy Awards after delivering the slap heard ‘round the world.
I’ll be honest — I wasn’t sure what to expect from this year’s Oscars following last year’s incident. Luckily, the Academy did not disappoint. Whether it was captivating musical performances, history-making moments, poignant acceptance speeches or awkward cultural references, the 2023 Oscars had it all. However, most importantly, the award show marked an incredible step forward for minorities in the film industry.
Hosted by comedian Jimmy Kimmel on March 12 in Los Angeles, the ceremony featured acts from Lady Gaga, who removed her makeup for her performance at record speeds, and Rihanna, who continues to shine bright like a diamond even while pregnant.
Although the pop superstars dazzled audiences with their vocals, the major standout was a performance of “Naatu Naatu” from the Indian blockbuster RRR. Its energetic dance battle and colorful costumes transported viewers into the world of Tollywood, Telugu cinema.
It did not surprise me that “Naatu Naatu” also won the category for Best Original Song. RRR is particularly notable for being the first Indian film to be nominated for and win the award.
Ruth E. Carter received her second Oscar for her costume design work on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, making her the first Black woman to win multiple Oscars.
Everything Everywhere All At Once, which revolves around middle-aged Chinese immigrant Evelyn and her relationship with her family, was at the center of the night. The movie took home seven wins for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
Both Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu were nominated for Best Supporting Actress for their roles in Everything Everywhere All At Once. To my surprise and dismay, Curtis, who only played a minor role, took home the title instead of Hsu.
Although Curtis’s acting was not shoddy, her limited screen time and one-dimensional character definitely did not warrant her win, especially considering that Hsu’s performance outshined her in every way.
In the film, Hsu played Joy, the deeply hurt daughter of Evelyn, as well as Joy’s alter ego from another universe, who was threatening to take over the universe after being pushed too far by Evelyn’s expectations.
Hsu’s depiction of a depressed and queer immigrant daughter struggling to gain her parent’s understanding and acceptance was all too real. I am unafraid to admit that Hsu was the reason I ugly-cried at multiple points in the movie; although she was snubbed of the award, she still delivered an Oscar-winning performance in my heart. I hope that her role in Everything Everywhere All At Once will be her stepping stone for even greater performances.
Additionally, the story of Ke Huy Quan, who won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Evelyn’s husband in the same film, tugged at the heartstrings of all who were watching.
During his acceptance speech, he said, “my journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp … somehow I ended up on Hollywood’s biggest stage!” The fact that a young struggling immigrant could grow up and deliver an Oscar-winning performance is a true dark horse story.
After two decades of struggling to find a role after acting in The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Quan made a huge comeback and described his achievement as the American dream. What made the night even more special was the emotional Indiana Jones reunion between Quan and Harrison Ford onstage during the award ceremony for Best Picture.
In addition, Michelle Yeoh, Quan’s co-star in Everything Everywhere All At Once, became the first Asian woman to win Best Actress. To say her multi-faceted portrayal of Evelyn did the character justice would be a total understatement.
Yeoh’s claim to fame was in martial arts films where she became known for doing her own stunt work despite receiving no formal training. Everything Everywhere All At Once was the perfect opportunity for Yeoh to demonstrate her knack for kung-fu, which she still retains after more than 20 years.
Through the television screen, Yeoh encouraged the dreams of young Asian Americans watching. While holding up her statuette, Yeoh said, “for all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility. This is proof that dreams do come true.” As an Asian American myself, her historic win made me feel incredibly proud.
Yeoh’s character transcends that of a stereotypical tiger mom. Beyond her hard exterior, Evelyn shows a deeply vulnerable and complex side in the movie that many filmmakers choose to ignore while writing an Asian character.
Her role showed the world that we don’t want to be confined to the “token Asian.” Asian characters’ personalities shouldn’t be reduced to a single trope. The population of Asian Americans is not a monolith — each has their own unique experiences.
While it is wonderful that many talented individuals are finally recognized for their accomplishments and Hollywood is more diverse than ever, frankly, it is about time. Voices from a variety of backgrounds deserve to be heard. This year’s Academy Awards hopefully marked the beginning of progress for both the Oscars and Hollywood. I look forward to an even better and brighter future for film.