Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh spoke up on Tuesday for diversity and women’s empowerment in the entertainment industry, telling reporters in Kuala Lumpur “we should never allow somebody to put us in a box.”
Speaking at her first news conference in her home country since her historic best actress win, the Malaysian star returned to themes that had been staples of her awards season interviews.
“I have been very blessed that I’ve continuously been able to work, and work (with) very interesting, very diverse and very forward-thinking filmmakers. That has enabled me to fight for what I truly believe in: representation, diversity, especially empowerment of women,” she said.
“I don’t believe just because we are women, we are a weaker sex… We should never allow somebody to put us in a box.”
Winning the best actress Oscar — as the first Asian woman ever to do so — “represents so much to so many of us”, she said, adding that she “heard the roar of joy, happiness all across the world to Los Angeles” following her victory.
‘Directors have no life’
Yeoh, 60, won the award for her portrayal of Chinese-American laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, who deals with family turmoil while battling an interdimensional villain in the sci-fi action comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
The lack of Asian representation at Hollywood’s highest levels had been a recurring topic in her interviews ahead of the awards.
Yeoh later met around 2,000 fans at a trendy shopping mall in the Malaysian capital, many of them screaming and taking photos and videos.
There were more cheers when she lifted her statuette to show it to the fans.
“She is a role model for me. Her tough and no-nonsense attitude empowers young women like me,” Ng Xue Ying, a 21-year-old broadcast student, told AFP.
Asked at the news conference for her advice to young people around the world, Yeoh said: “Don’t become me, be you… I believe that you are going to be better.”
The Hollywood veteran was born to Chinese-Malaysian parents in the northern city of Ipoh. She embraced dance as a child and specialized in ballet, which she studied in England.
Yeoh’s film credits stretch back to the 1980s, but her Hollywood breakthrough came when she was cast as the first ethnic Chinese Bond girl in 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” opposite Pierce Brosnan.
She also starred in the Oscar-winning 2000 martial arts film “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, the 2005 period drama “Memoirs of a Geisha” and the 2018 romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians”.
Yeoh said she has no interest in becoming a film director.
“Directors have no life. I love my life so much,” she said.
“You have no time for anything because being a director you have to know everything and be everywhere all at once.”