Asia celebrates Michelle Yeoh and other historic Oscar wins

HONG KONG — Movie fans, famous mothers and world leaders across Asia celebrated Monday after some history-making moments at the Academy Awards.

Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian to win best actress and India received its first Oscars for not just one but two films, breakthroughs that drew joy on social media, fist pumps at viewing parties and impromptu dancing on the streets.

The Malaysian actor, 60, won for her role as an immigrant mother and laundromat owner in the psychedelic comedy drama “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which also won best picture.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh said in her acceptance speech. “This is proof that dreams dream big and dreams do come true.”

Yeoh’s family and friends were watching on the other side of the world in Kuala Lumpur, where billboards on display in recent days called her “the pride of Malaysia.”

Her mother, Janet Yeoh, 84, said she had no doubt that her daughter would win.

“She’s a very hard-working girl,” she said at a news conference after a special viewing party that was also attended by Cabinet ministers. “I so love my daughter and she has made Malaysia proud,” she added.

In a statement, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said his government joined the nation in congratulating Yeoh, who has also appeared in films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

“Coupled with this latest accomplishment, Michelle’s illustrious and exemplary career in this field will certainly continue to be a source of great inspiration and motivation to our homegrown actors and actresses and provide even greater impetus to the growth of our local industry,” he said. “Way to go, Michelle!”

Yeoh mentioned the viewing party in her speech, dedicating her Oscar to her mother and “all the moms in the world, because they are really the superheroes.”

“I love you guys, I’m bringing this home to you,” she said.

Yeoh also thanked her “extended family” in Hong Kong, an Asian filmmaking hub where she first rose to prominence as a martial arts star in the 1980s and the ’90s. Kevin Yeung, secretary for culture, sports and tourism, called her award “well deserved.”

A hashtag about Yeoh’s win was trending Monday on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform, with 520 million views and 250,000 posts.

“It made me incredibly proud that Asian faces could be recognized on the world stage,” one user wrote.

Yeoh’s Oscar was one of seven “Everything Everywhere” collected Sunday, including best supporting actor for her co-star, Ke Huy Quan. Quan, who fled Vietnam to Hong Kong with several family members as a child in the late 1970s before being resettled in the United States, alluded to that experience in his acceptance speech.

“My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow I ended up here, on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” he said.

Sunday was also a big night for India, with the blockbuster film “RRR” and the documentary short “The Elephant Whisperers” becoming the first two films from the country to win the Oscars.

“Naatu Naatu,” the Telugu language, dance-craze-inspiring hit from “RRR,” won best original song and received a standing ovation during its performance at the awards ceremony. Back home, TV showed images of people dancing to the song in the streets minutes after the award was announced.

The win by composer M.M. Keeravani and lyricist Chandrabose drew congratulations from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said the country was “elated and proud.”

“I feel this is just the beginning of everything so that the world — particularly the Western world — focuses more on Indian music and Asian music, which is long due,” Keeravani told reporters backstage after winning.

Modi also congratulated Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga, makers of “The Elephant Whisperers,” on their win for best documentary short. The Netflix film is about a couple in South India caring for an orphaned baby elephant.

“I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and our natural world, for the respect of indigenous communities and empathy towards other living beings we share our space with, and finally for co-existence,” Gonsalves said before thanking her colleagues, her family and “my motherland, India.”

Mumbai-based director Madhur Bhandarkar told Reuters on Monday that it was “a proud moment for all of us.”

“I think it’s a great moment for the film fraternity also, for the Indian film fraternity,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely great news this morning.”

Stanley Le, Carina Cheng, Mithil Aggarwal, Brigitte Pu, Larissa Gao, Reuters and Associated Press contributed.

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