60-year-old Malaysian citizen Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh made showbiz history after becoming the first Asian woman to win Best Actress for her performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once at the Oscars held on 12 March 2023.
People in Malaysia have responded with joy and jubilation after Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian to win the best actress Oscar, calling the Malaysian performer the “pride of Malaysia” and an “inspiration to all women and Malaysians”.
Yeoh’s family and friends at a viewing party in Kuala Lumpur screamed and cheered as her win was announced on Monday.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim including His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah also congratulated the 60-year-old on her win.
However, according to, one small-time Malaysian preacher, PU Syed, her win only brings pride to the ‘faithless’ as it did not bring any benefits to religious affairs in the country.
“What is there to be proud of about the Oscars? Brings pride to Malaysia? What is there to be proud of? We cannot be proud of something that doesn’t benefit religious affairs. Leave that to the faithless.” he wrote on Facebook.
Before you ROTFL, exactly how Malaysian is Michelle Yeoh? Religion aside, the preacher’s words are not entirely meaningless. Imagine a young lady who wants to pursue dancing as a career. Her mother vehemently objects ad wants her to be a doctor instead. She rebels, leaves home, pursues her dream, becomes a great dancer and wins an award. She thanks her mother out of respect. It would take quite a thick-skinned mother to say that she is proud of her daughter. I dedicated my second novel Like a Dewdrop to my mother who doesn’t think much of writers, without whom neither this book nor its disobedient author could have existed.
In his emotional acceptance speech after winning the best supporting actor award at the Oscars, Ke Huy Quan 关继威 spoke of his journey as a young boy on a boat from Vietnam, via a refugee camp in Hong Kong, to California.
“I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” he said. “They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This is the American dream.”
He is the first person of Vietnamese origin to win an Oscar, and one of two nominated this year – the other was Hong Chau in The Whale, whose family also fled from Vietnam on a boat.
Yet in Vietnam, the official reaction has been subdued. Reports in the media, which is nearly all state-controlled, have said little about Ke Huy Quan or his background.
Thanh Nien newspaper wrote only that “he was born in 1971 to a Chinese family in Ho Chi Minh City [the official name for Saigon] and then moved to the US in the late 1970s”.
Tuoi Tre wrote: “Quan Ke Huy was born in 1971 in Vietnam to a Chinese family, with a mother from Hong Kong and a father from mainland China.”
VN Express wrote that the actor “has Chinese parents in Cho Lon area”, the commercial district of Saigon traditionally inhabited by ethnic Chinese.
Social media users have been taking aim at Chinese official commentator Hu Xijin, the former editor of the nationalistic Global Times newspaper, after he claimed Michelle Yeoh’s Oscars win as a victory for “Chinese cultural genes.”
“Congratulations to Ms Michelle Yeoh, so happy for her,” Xi posted to his account on the social media platform Sina Weibo after Yeoh became the first person of Asian descent to win a Best Actress award at the Oscars. “China is rising, and Asia is rising, and people of Chinese and Asian descent will definitely be more and more in the public eye.”
It’s not the ideal response, but it’s also not an an unreasonable response from a naysaying motherland. Acknowledging Quan would also mean that mistakes they made in the past resulted in brain drain. They cannot associate themselves with this former refugee without some awkardness. Better to keep him at arm’s length.
Now back to Michelle Yeoh, would her Oscar-winning movie Everything Everywhere All at Once with its LGBT theme ever be allowed on the screens in Malaysia? Hell, no. Malaysia is not like Vietnam, but it’s also a naysaying mother. Namewee went to Taiwan. Michelle went to Hong Kong. They succeeded in spite of the restrictive environment back home. Sure, be a sport and congratulate Michelle Yeoh, but the awkwardness of association with Malaysian society must not be ignored.
But the most thick-skinned association would come from China. Michelle Yeoh revealed that her role (which required some slick moves) was originally given to Jackie Chan.
“They wrote it that way, with Jackie, and me as the wife. So the roles were completely reversed. I remember Jackie texting me and saying, ‘Congratulations! You know your boys came to see me first.
“I’m like, ‘thank you bro, you did me a huge favour’,” she added.
Yeoh went on to suggest that it was a “mutual” decision for Chan to turn down the film. On top of Chan’s “very busy” work schedule, she also said that the Daniels had “stepped back” and decided to make the film focus on a female lead.
I’m not sure if you detect any awkwardness there, knowing Jackie Chan’s submissive/subservient posture towards the Party, it’s quite likely that he didn’t find the script politically correct. And he obviously didn’t predict that that the film would win the Oscars. When it did, China’s propaganda chief, former Global Times chief Hu Xijin 胡锡进 congratulated Michelle and quickly associated her honour with China’s greatness.
“More people of Chinese descent will take advantage of that momentum and achieve new pinnacles,” Hu wrote. “We should be cheering on anyone of Chinese descent who carries China’s cultural genes.”
Publicly available information suggests that Yeoh’s ancestors fled Fujian before the Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and crossed an ocean to settle in Malaysia. What would Michelle’s “cultural genes” have done for her if she had remained in China?
Hu’s comments sparked a number of skeptical and satirical responses despite tight political censorship and warnings. Scores of users who had highlighted the awkwardness had already been blocked for “malicious comments”.
Finally, there is retired Hong Kong actor/singer Lee Lung Kei who who caused quite a stir after transferring 7 of his properties to his 36-year-old lover he planned to marry, only to have the wedding delayed by Covid.
Interestingly, many netizens have been calling him all kinds of names – which I think is ridiculous. Being much richer than any one of us here, we have no right to tell Santa Lee where to deliver his gifts. With or without the 7 properties, Santa Lee is still able to live comfortably. His decision is sound. Nothing to be ashamed of.
What about Lee Lung Kei’s imitators, most of whom are not even half as rich as he is? Many of these envious wannabes would play Santa Claus even when they can’t afford to live and eat properly, often having to borrow money (sometimes from their children) to show off their trophy partners. These are the folks who need to wake up and straighten out their Maslow’s pyramid. Fortunately or unfortunately, these guys don’t make the news.