Crazy Rich Asians star Michelle Yeoh says she’s grateful that the summer blockbuster is ushering in new opportunities for Asian actors in American films, but she cautioned that change won’t continue unless executives at the top set the example.
Speaking to Ashley Ford, the host of BuzzFeed News’ Profile, the Hollywood legend talked about the “gratifying” validation she received from her peers on the success of the film.
“It’s so nice to see it, because I’ve been in the business for a while now,” Yeoh said, “and being able to fight those battles and now just seeing the tide turn, it’s a great feeling. It is very empowering.”
Crazy Rich Asians was the first major Hollywood studio film with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. To date, the film has earned more than $170 million at the US box office, quelling the notion that films with predominantly Asian casts aren’t marketable or relatable. The film also drew nominations at this year’s Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical and Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical for Constance Wu.
Yeoh, who attended Sunday’s Globes in Los Angeles along with other stars from Crazy Rich Asians, said it was great to see so many Asian women, including host Sandra Oh, making history, but added, “I wish it doesn't have to be an event.”
“I wish it was a normal thing that we would see on the screen, that we would see the Asian faces on the cover of a magazine. We would see [them] as a romantic hero or as a heroine,” she said.
Yeoh called on the powers that be make sure Asian actors get the parts they deserve.
“We talk about diversity, we talk about being represented, but we cannot be just a token of representation,” she said. “You know, all these talks about diversity, if it doesn’t happen at the top level, it’s never going to come down to the bottom.”
“They have to believe it, they have to push for it, and they have to fight for it,” she said.
While Yeoh may have had career highs that would make any actor envious — like starring in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and making waves as the first Bond girl of Chinese descent in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies — people can’t seem to get enough of that massive emerald ring she wore in Crazy Rich Asians, a jewel she actually owns in real life.
“I don’t wait for people to give me presents,” Yeoh said on Profile. “If I want flowers, I’m going to send them to me.”
Yeoh said that when she and director Jon M. Chu were selecting a ring for her character, Eleanor Young, to wear in the film, they rejected many pieces of jewelry. In the movie, the ring is specially designed for Eleanor after her partner’s mother refuses to give his blessing to their marriage.
“It couldn’t have just been a huge diamond,” Yeoh said. “That would have been too easy, right?”
Yeoh wore the ring to Sunday’s Golden Globes, dazzling fans with a green leather ensemble that matched the emerald jewel.
Asked about her legacy and how she’d like to be remembered, Yeoh said, “That’s too far in the future.”
“I’m still working towards that,” she continued. “I feel there’s still so much to learn, there’s so much to do. … But it’s all good. You can’t complain.”