NEW YORK – Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh took home the Best Actress prize at the National Board of Review Awards on Sunday, becoming the first Asian to win the award.
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures is a non-profit organisation of New York City area film enthusiasts. Its awards, held in Manhattan, are considered a harbinger of the film award season, leading up to the Golden Globes on Tuesday and culminating in the Oscars in March. The Screen Actor Guild nominations are on Wednesday and voting for the Oscars starts on Thursday.
Yeoh, 60, won for her role as a stressed-out Chinese-American laundromat owner battling to save the multiverse in sleeper hit Everything Everywhere All At Once.
In her acceptance speech, the veteran, who started in Hong Kong action movies in the 1990s, spoke of trying to make it in Hollywood. “My real name is Yeoh Choo Kheng. I was told I needed to take a Western name.
“So Yeoh Choo Kheng became Michelle Yeoh. We were told it would make it easier to sell our films, tell our stories to the rest of the world.”
She continued: “Then one day, Hollywood came calling, an absolute dream come true. We all wanted to go to Hollywood – until I got there. Suddenly, I was a minority. How did that happen? There are more of me than you.
“I was typecast. I didn’t see faces like mine on the screen. I met with people who didn’t know where Korea and China and Japan were.”
“I am so incredibly proud to be the first Asian actress in 45 years to receive this honour,” she said to a nearly one-minute-long standing ovation. “I hope that Hollywood and the film-making community recognise what a watershed film this is and all the things I’ve stood for and tried to accomplish in my four-decade career.”
Time magazine’s Icon of the Year 2022 added: “This award proves we can tell our own stories on our own terms and embrace something as simple and as important as our given names.”
Yeoh has received a string of awards in recent months, including the International Star Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film from the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
The National Board of Review Awards also recognised Steven Spielberg, who won Best Director for his coming-of-age movie The Fabelmans; Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively for comedy drama The Banshees Of Inisherin; Janelle Monae, who won Best Supporting Actress for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery; and the Tom Cruise vehicle Top Gun: Maverick, which took home Best Film.