Watching Michelle Yeoh take the stage to accept an Oscar for Best Actress, it’s hard to believe she almost gave up on acting last year.
She admitted it just two months ago, while accepting the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. After telling the audience she turned 60 last year, she said, “I probably was at a time where I thought, ‘Hey, come on, girl, you’ve had a good run and you’ve worked with some of the best people… it’s all good.’”
Flash forward to the 2023 Oscars. Yeoh, dazzling in a white Dior gown and diamond chandelier earrings, was named Best Actress for her role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – making her the first Asian woman to win the award.
After tearfully calling her win “a beacon of hope and possibilities” for “all the little boys and girls who look like me,” she turned her attention to the women in the room, telling them, “Ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime.”
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a bad habit of promoting an ageist attitude against women. In fact, the average age of Best Actress winners in the past century is around 37 years old, according to Statista. Yeoh – who made her Hollywood debut with the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” – is well aware of this discrimination, and addressed it in her Golden Globes speech: “I think all of you women understand this: as the days, years, numbers get bigger, the opportunities get smaller as well.”
However, just when she thought her day in the sun was over, she was cast in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” as Evelyn Wang, laundromat-owner-turned-superhero – her first lead role in a Hollywood film in many years. In a 2022 interview with NBC, she said the film pays homage to women “who are sometimes invisible, who we take for granted.”
Yeoh was not the only woman in her sixties to win big at the Oscars. Yeoh’s castmate Jamie Lee Curtis, 64, won the award for Best Supporting Actress – her first Oscar in her 45-year career. Curtis, who has always stood up against ageism, said last year at the Radically Reframing Aging Summit that “It’s time to examine our beliefs and cultural assumptions about aging…and most importantly, how we can discover aging as a time to deepen our sense of purpose, joy and meaning,” as reported by TODAY.
If Yeoh and Curtis had bought into the narrative that women lose value as they age, perhaps they wouldn’t have achieved such success at the 2023 Oscars – and perhaps they wouldn’t have even been in attendance. But luckily, they both were – and they both commanded the room with thunderous applause.
Yeoh, with an award in her left hand and her right fist in the air, anchored her speech with a simple but powerful message for all the women in the audience: “Never give up.”