What 'Everything Everywhere' has taught us about racism and representation in Hollywood
Throughout the awards season, the stars and creators of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” have shared their personal experiences with racism and representation in Hollywood.
Many of them have noted how significant it is to receive this level of recognition in an industry that’s been historically hard to break into for non-White actors, and they’ve also shared how their lives as immigrants and children of immigrants have shaped their work.
Below are some of the stories shared on Oscars night and in previous interviews and awards ceremonies.
Someone marveled that she spoke English
In her Golden Globes acceptance speech, Michelle Yeoh said Hollywood “was a dream come true until I got here.” Credit: Earl Gibson III/Shutterstock
Yeoh, who plays failing-laundromat-owner-turned-superhero Evelyn Wang in the film, arrived in Hollywood after many successful years as an actor in Hong Kong.
She soon learned the reality of the US entertainment industry was different from what she expected.
“It was a dream come true until I got here,” Yeoh said as she accepted a Golden Globe award for best actress. “Because, look at this face. I came here and was told, ‘You’re a minority.’ And I’m like, ‘No, that’s not possible.’
“And then someone said to me, ‘You speak English!’ …and then I said, ‘yeah, the flight here was about 13 hours long so I learned.”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is her first time receiving top billing in a Hollywood movie. Yeoh, 60, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that it’s been a long time coming.
“You receive scripts. And as the years get bigger, the numbers get bigger, the roles seem to shrink with that. As you know, as a woman, as an Asian woman… somehow they start putting you in boxes. And it’s always the guy who gets to go on the adventure and save the world,” Yeoh said.
Watch: ‘I don’t want to be a damsel in distress’: Michelle Yeoh on the part of a lifetime
The part of Evelyn in the script from writer-director duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert instantly grabbed her attention.
“This is a very ordinary woman, an Asian, immigrant woman, who is dealing with all the problems that we all can relate to,” Yeoh told Amanpour. “And what I loved about it, it was like this is an ordinary woman who is being seen, who’s given a role to play as a superhero.”
As she finished her best actress acceptance speech and got ready to step offstage on Oscars night, Yeoh spoke with the triumphant joy of someone who’s finally being seen in Hollywood as the versatile actor she’s always been.
“Thank you to the Academy,” she said. “This is history in the making.”
His phone stopped ringing because there weren’t enough roles for Asian actors
Ke Huy Quan accepts the award for best supporting actor for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at the Critics Choice Awards in January. Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
“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,” Quan said after winning an Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role for his portrayal of the hapless yet heroic Waymond Wang.
“They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This — this is the American dream.”
But Quan has acknowledged the bumps in his journey, too, and how he almost gave up on his dreams when opportunities dried up.
Quan reimagined his career path, going on to study film at the University of Southern California and to work behind the scenes as a stunt coordinator and assistant director. He wouldn’t have another film role for nearly 20 years.
Seeing the Asian cast of the 2018 movie “Crazy Rich Asians” made him realize how much he missed acting. And as soon as he came across the “Everything Everywhere” script, he knew he was the right person to play Waymond.
“The landscape looks so different now than before,” Quan said at the Screen Actors Guild awards. At that ceremony, he noted he was the first Asian actor to win in the best supporting actor category.
“This moment no longer belongs to just me,” he said. “It also belongs to everyone who has asked for change.”
He went on to offer words of encouragement for others who may feel the way he did for decades.
“To all those at home who are watching, who are struggling and waiting to be seen, please keep on going, because the spotlight will one day find you.”
His immigrant father helped inspire part of the movie’s plot
Jonathan Wang speaks as the cast and crew of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” accept the Best Picture award during the Critics Choice Awards. Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
On a night full of joyous exuberance, producer Jonathan Wang’s speech at the end of the Critics’ Choice Awards offered a somber reminder.
As he accepted the best picture prize, Wang invoked his late father and the characters Yeoh and Quan played.
“This award is dedicated to my dad, a Taiwanese immigrant who worked himself into an early grave,” Wang said. “This is really dedicated to the Evelyns, the Waymonds, the immigrant parents who would kill themselves for us immigrant children, to give us a better life.”
He echoed that message on Oscars night as he accepted the film’s best picture award.
“This is for my dad,” Wang said, “who, like so many immigrant parents, died young.”
“From the butchered movie titles to the unapologetic Chinglish, a touch of my Dad lives on in this film,” Wang posted on Instagram last year shortly before “Everything Everywhere” hit theaters.
The producer has said his father helped inspire one of the movie’s many wacky plot twists — a film-within-the-film dubbed “Raccacoonie,” which features a raccoon sitting on a chef’s head. It’s a reference to “Ratatouille” and a homage to his dad.
“After the commotion of nomination day faded, I finally got a moment to take a shower and have a second to myself,” Wang wrote. “As the water ran over my stunned face, I sobbed tears of joy — deep tears of joy — finally feeling a release and acceptance that my Dad was, and is, so proud.”
She feared becoming an actor because of what she didn’t see on screen
Stephanie Hsu, shown here as supervillain Jobu Tupacki in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her performance in the film. Credit: A24
As Stephanie Hsu stepped on stage to accept a “breakout in film” award at the Unforgettable Gala, which celebrates Asians and Pacific Islanders in entertainment, she thought back to a memorable moment in her childhood.
Hsu had been chosen to act out a fake lemonade ad in front of her school. She held the empty lemonade carton in the same way she held her award at the glitzy LA ceremony in December.
Despite her doubts, Hsu went on to study drama at New York University, become a Broadway star in “Be More Chill” and the “SpongeBob SquarePants” musical and land a prominent TV role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
But still, she says she had a hard time imagining she could succeed. That’s started to change in the whirlwind of acclaim around her powerful “Everything Everywhere” dual performances as downtrodden daughter Joy Wang and ruthless supervillain Jobu Tupaki.
“I’m so excited,” the 32-year-old said at the Unforgettable Gala, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “I feel like I’ve never really allowed myself to love doing this because I’ve been so scared that it would never be possible. And I feel like this year has given me so much permission to truly love what I do, and I hope to make y’all proud, and I’m so excited to keep going.”
Hsu has said her own experience growing up as the daughter of a Taiwanese immigrant helped inform her performances in “Everything Everywhere.”
When he started acting, producers said ‘Asians were not good enough’
In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” James Hong plays a demanding father to Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang. Credit: A24
James Hong has hundreds of acting credits to his name, but it took nearly seven decades for him to end up center stage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“There is one of us who has been supporting ensembles for longer than any of us has been alive,” Yeoh said as the cast of “Everything Everywhere” won the best ensemble award and ceded the stage to Hong, who’s 94.
Hong noted the first movie he appeared in starred Clark Gable.
“Back in those days, the leading role was played by these guys with their eyes taped up, and they talked like this,” said Hong, mimicking the offensive accent that was written for Asian characters at the time.
“And the producers said the Asians were not good enough. And they are not box office,” Hong added. “But look at us now.”
Watch: The actor with 600+ credits and counting
The opportunities for Asian actors were so limited early in his career that Hong co-founded his own theater company, the legendary East West Players.
“That started the industry noticing who we were,” Hong told Great Big Story. “We weren’t just extras, or gimmick people. We were in a play that we organized. We were the main, lead people. We were the actors. And we commanded attention.”
As he commanded attention once again and drew a standing ovation from the crowd at this year’s SAG Awards, Hong noted he hopes to be on the awards circuit for years to come.
“I hope I will come back when I’m 100 years old,” he said.