“Everything Everywhere All At Once” brought me to tears once again.
At the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday, the A24 film took home seven of its 11 nominations — an unprecedented achievement for an Asian-led film in Hollywood’s historically discriminatory industry. Another record high of four actors of Asian descent were nominated this year: Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh and Stephanie Hsu for their roles in “Everything Everywhere,” along with Hong Chau for her performance in “The Whale.”
For me and others like myself, “Everything Everywhere” resonated on a personal level. The complex relationship between Evelyn, her husband Waymond and their daughter Joy depict the generational trauma that we had long struggled to articulate, further complicated by the language barriers we faced with our immigrant parents.
Yet the film’s powerful storytelling transcended cultural boundaries — everyone would have something to take away from it, as its box office records would indicate. Amid the whirlwind of scenes featuring hotdog fingers and makeshift buttplugs were universal themes of love, acceptance and regret rooted in unfulfilled dreams.
Its triumph at Hollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony served as a reminder that the stories of Asian communities are worth listening to, after all the times they’ve been pushed aside or deemed too “foreign.” And that they’re best told by those belonging to the community — regardless of the pull that actors like Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone or Tom Cruise might have.
Everything about the evening was a celebration of diversity
As the honorees and guests made their way in, the red carpet and surrounding press were abuzz with discussions of representation. Actors Harry Shum Jr. and Hong Chau graced the carpet wearing outfits inspired by traditional dresses, paying homage to their cultural heritage.
Red carpet coverage is always a hectic affair, even more so at the Oscars with media outlets competing for even just a second of time with one arrival after another. But when a line of reporters from much bigger publications were told that Stephanie Hsu only had time for one last question, our neighbors deferred to us, in support of NextShark’s coverage for Asian representation.
And while Hsu ended up being whisked away to prepare for her live musical performance at the show, others on the carpet provided valuable insights into the significance of the night.
Chinese Canadian director Domee Shi shared her thoughts with me on the red carpet, stating, “We’re not just one stereotypical type — a dragon lady, a tiger mom, a robot, a doctor, a lawyer.”
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“We’re messy, we’re giant Godzilla-like creatures that could kill a boyband,” she went on, in reference to her Pixar film “Turning Red” which was also nominated that night for Best Animated Film. “We’re hormonal, horny tween girls that poof into a giant red panda anytime we see a cute boy.”
Rosalie Chiang, who voiced the main character in Shi’s movie, stood by the director — dressed in a vibrant red gown, of course. The young actor shared Shi’s sentiments on her excitement for the night ahead and being a part of such a historic moment, and the hope it inspired for a new wave of roles available to Asian actors.
Everywhere we turned, dreams were becoming reality
Ke Huy Quan took home the film’s first victory of the night with the award for Best Supporting Actor.
No other words uttered by the actor seemed capable of striking a chord as deeply as his famous line about doing laundry and taxes — until I heard his speech. Watching him hold his trophy triumphantly and exclaim, “Mom, I just won an Oscar!” reminded me of the themes explored in the movie: the hardships of starting a new life in a new world, and the sacrifices immigrant parents make to turn the American dream into a reality.
Of course, Michelle Yeoh took home the award for Best Actress, the first victory for an Asian woman at the Oscars. The actress accepted the award with a heartfelt message on dreaming big, a point she reiterated to me at the post-ceremony governor’s ball. Swarmed by co-stars, peers and loved ones, I approached a scene straight out of Evelyn’s movie-star multiverse as she shared a message to the countless Asian woman she’s inspired, including myself:
“Never give up. You have to believe in your dreams, and dare to dream to be able to achieve what you want,” she said, radiating as brightly as she did on stage.
All at once, the Oscars were over
The night was equally one of celebration for the progress that’s been made and a reminder of the work that lies ahead.
I was reminded of what Hong Chau said to me earlier on the red carpet: that awards might be something worth celebrating but in no way should be used to gauge progress in representation.
“It’s about what we do the rest of the year,” she said. “It’s about people putting a lot of energy, time and money and thoughtfulness into how we talk about movies that don’t have a big budget, that have emerging actors who may not be household names yet. It’s more of that type of effort than the optics of awards.”
Looking back on the ceremony, the presence of other actors serves as further examples.
Donnie Yen, who attended as one of the presenters, is highly anticipated to appear in the upcoming fourth installment of the “John Wick” series — just one of many moments of representation to look forward to. Still, only recently it was reported that he had requested to change elements of his character to tone down some of the racial tropes often written into Hollywood’s Asian roles.
John Cho, another presenter, is distinguished for upholding many of the “first Asian” titles. Though as I learned from him last year, the actor expressed hope in a reality in which such milestones will no longer need to be celebrated. “I look forward to them all being done real soon, and that we can get to seconds and thirds and fourths,” he said.
Hollywood has repeatedly shown us its ability to turn its back on marginalized groups once it meets its “diversity quota.” Will the buzz around “Everything Everywhere All At Once” be just another fleeting moment, or will it generate lasting momentum for change?
Coverage of the 95th Academy Awards’ red carpet by Grace Kim with assistance from Daniel Anderson