Michelle Yeoh: ‘In 1984, women were relegated to being the damsel in distress’

I’m still rooting for Michelle Yeoh to take the Oscar on the 12th. I saw Tár. Cate Blanchett did a good job, but I want it to go to Michelle. I think she deserves it for her Everything Everywhere All at Once performance, but I also think she’s done her time in Hollywood and been ignored as a contender for years because of racism and sexism. It’s only taken 40 years for people to wake up to Michelle but at least we got here, and in no small part to Michelle not allowing herself to be put in the corner. When she embarked on her film career in the 80s, she was cast as the “damsel in distress” which were, she said, the roles reserved for women. But Michelle refused, telling filmmakers she could take care of herself and quite possibly the leading man.

Yeoh grew up in the city of Ipoh, known for tin mining. Her father, Kian Teik, was a lawyer and politician, and her mother, Janet, a former beauty queen. Yeoh left Malaysia at 15 to study ballet at the Royal Academy of Dance in London. Not long after, a spinal injury derailed her promising dance career.

After she returned home, a quick succession of victories shifted her fate: Her mother entered her in the 1983 Miss Malaysia pageant. She won. That led to an audition for a commercial with Jackie Chan. She booked it. Soon after, Yeoh was cast in her first movie in Hong Kong: as a woman in need of saving, in the action-comedy The Owl vs. Bumbo.

“When I started off in 1984, women were relegated to being the damsel in distress,” she says. “We need to be protected, according to our guys. But then I would go, ‘No, guys, I think we can protect ourselves pretty well. And if push comes to shove, maybe I can protect you too.’ ”

Yeoh soon reunited with Chan, costarring in Supercop in 1992, which raised her profile in Asian cinema alongside the martial-arts legend. Then Hollywood came calling.

“The first movie I did after I came to America was Tomorrow Never Dies with Pierce Brosnan,” says Yeoh. “James Bond at that point had only been known as macho, and the girls were just the ones with cutesy names.” As Chinese spy Wai Lin in the 1997 film, Yeoh upended the very notion of the “Bond Girl,” saving 007’s life, rejecting his advances and standing on equal footing with the most alpha of males.

After that, the offers poured in. “At that point, people in the industry couldn’t really tell the difference between whether I was Chinese or Japanese or Korean or if I even spoke English,” she recalls. “They would talk very loudly and very slow.” Her refusal to be typecast had consequences. “I didn’t work for almost two years, until Crouching Tiger, simply because I could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward to me.”

[From People]

It’s not an uncommon tale in Hollywood. A woman breaks the mold in a film and studios flood her inbox. Of course, they don’t actually want her to be anything other than the exisiting mold they’ve cast for women once she shows up for the part, but they want to be able to say they have this bad@$$ woman on board. I have no problem believing these execs walking around opening debating Michelle’s ethnicity and probably asking her agent if she could speak English right in front of her. These guys have no couth.

But Michelle was in it for the long haul and stuck to her guns. Maybe she’s just being re-discovered at the age of 60, but at least it’s completely on her terms. If for nothing else, she deserves the Oscar for that. One thing’s for sure, no one sees Michelle freaking Yeoh as a damsel in distress.

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13 Responses to “Michelle Yeoh: ‘In 1984, women were relegated to being the damsel in distress’”

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  1. Moderatelywealthy says:

    Michelle Yeoh is a true legend and deserves it all.

  2. FHMom says:

    Im rooting for her, also. I’m so happy she’s getting the recognition she deserves.

    • BothSidesNow says:

      Me too!!! Michelle has been around for several decades and has paid her dues in spades. Michelle carries her characters brilliantly and with passion and determination. It’s time that she be given the Oscar as she has deserved it for too long. I am always mesmerized by her acting and her physical ability as well.

      I was captivated by her in her Bond movie when we saw it in the theaters too. Yes, I’m that old…

  3. Gizmo’sMa says:

    Looks like I have to go out and buy a People magazine. I haven’t brought one in years.

    I have loved Michelle Yeoh since I was a kid. When I only knew her face and not her name (no IMDB). I never saw her as a damsel in distress.

  4. Lux says:

    Michelle is an amazing actor who brings such dignity and gravitas to her roles. I loved her restraint in Crouching Tiger in contrast to Ziyi’s impetuous and impulsive character, and she really played the MIL sympathetically in CRA. I STILL have not seen EEAAO but that’s not for lack of trying! It was on Hulu and I saved it but when I went to play it, it ceased to be available…

    • Gizmo’sMa says:

      Watching Michelle in CTHD I realized she wasn’t just an action star that she could do drama too. I really saw her acting skills is that movie. I love that movie. It’s still one of my favorite movies.

      EEAAO is on Showtime. That’s the only place it’s streaming. Showtime had a free weekend and that’s why it was temporarily available on HULU. You have to purchase the movie digitally or rent it on disc through Redbox.

  5. DiegoInLA&SF says:

    I love her! And she looks so much like my mom who’s half Korean.
    Rooting for her too!!

  6. MissMarirose says:

    I just want to point out something that I think has been overlooked in most of the awards season coverage of EEAAO. It’s the story of a hard-working immigrant woman who is mostly taken for granted, overwhelmed, and overlooked. And JLC plays the Caucasian version of her as a kind of villain. It’s not something you see very often in movies. JLC referred to it, I think, in her SAG award speech. The women in the movie (including the daughter) feel invisible to society, and this movie says, “We see you.” I just think that’s so important.

    And Michelle Yeoh doing drama and comedy and action and speaking 2 languages is 12/10 difficulty level. She’s far above even Cate Blanchett, in my opinion. But the world is a dumpster fire, and so I fear Yeoh won’t get the win she deserves.

  7. els says:

    She deserves to win. She was amazing in EEAAO I hope she’s gonna win the Oscar this year!!

  8. tealily says:

    She’s the coolest. I really, really hope she gets this. I’m so bored with Cate Blanchett winning things.

  9. Nicegirl says:

    She’s amazing 🔥 💕 🖖

  10. Emme says:

    Michelle Yeoh is fabulous in everything I’ve ever seen her in and I adore her work, her style, her versatility. BUT, a friend met her recently on a flight and said not only is she tiny and stunningly beautiful, she was also warm and friendly plus soooo nice to all the staff. Lovely inside and out!

  11. j.ferber says:

    I SO hope she wins the Oscar. She really deserves it. That was an amazing performance and an amazing film. Loved it.