Michelle Yeoh: an actress committed to gender equality



Michelle Yeoh is a Malaysian actress and producer. Considered "the queen of Asian action cinema", she has marked the history of the 7th art by her talent and her commitment.


Born in 1962 in Ipoh (Malaysia), she began her career as a model and beauty queen, was elected Miss Malaysia in 1983, before turning to cinema. In the 80's, she was noticed for her roles in Hong Kong action films, where she performed her own stunts. She became an icon of martial arts cinema and a pioneer of the female genre. In 1995, she extended her range to drama, with "The Soong Sisters" and "Stunt-Woman", two films that earned her a nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1997, she gained international fame by playing Wai Lin, a James Bond girl, alongside Pierce Brosnan in the film "Tomorrow Never Dies". She continued her career in Hollywood with cult films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005) and "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (2008).

In 2002, Yeoh produced her first film, "The Talisman", directed by Peter Pau, in which she also plays the lead role.

In 2011, she plays the famous Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson's film, "The Lady", where she "reveals herself full of sensitivity, which contrasts with her usual action and combat roles" (Wikipedia, Michelle Yeoh). She also distinguished herself in the romantic comedy genre, with "Crazy Rich Asians" in 2018.

Since 2017, she is part of the cast of the series "Star Trek: Discovery". She also plays the role of Scian, in the series "The Witcher: Blood Origin" (2022-2023).

In 2023, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in "Everything Everywhere All At Once", a science fiction film in which she plays Evelyn Choi, an ordinary woman who finds herself traveling between parallel dimensions. This historic award makes her the first actress of Asian origin to receive this prize in 95 years of ceremonies.

But why stop there when greatness is smiling on you? Her performance in "Everything Everywhere All At Once" also earned her the 2023 Golden Globe and Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, the 2023 Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress, and the 2023 Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Performance.

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" also won the 2023 Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast.

"For all the little boys and girls who look like me, watching tonight, this is a beacon  of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams dream big, and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you’re ever past your prime. Never give up." – Michelle Yeoh’s speech at the Oscars 2023

Beyond her accomplished acting career, Michelle Yeoh is also a woman committed to gender equality.

Since 2016, she has served as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to raise awareness and mobilize support for the Sustainable Development Goals, and advocates for the empowerment of women and girls around the world. She notably supports projects to promote education, health, justice and human rights for women.

She is also a global road safety ambassador for the UN Decade of Action (2011-2020), and a member of the Commission for Global Road Safety, "advocating for road traffic injuries to be recognized as a global public health and development priority" (www.undp.org).

In March 2010 and April 2014, "she represented Malaysia at the United Nations General Assembly, where 100 governments endorsed the proposal for the Decade of Action. In April, she was invited to speak at the High-Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping at the United Nations headquarters in New York" (www.undp.org).

She is also involved in the fight against violence against women and has participated in several awareness campaigns on this topic. In 2018, she joined the Me Too movement that denounces sexual harassment in the film industry and shared her personal experience facing this scourge.

"It is a part of the sustainable development goals. The empowerment of women, gender equality is all there, it’s something we need to work on. It’s something for the longest of time, it’s not been spoken out. It’s not been addressed in such a way. And times have changed. It’s a good thing." – Michelle Yeoh, The Hollywood Reporter (2018)

Although she has never experienced sexual harassment in the workplace herself, surely due to her many tough-girl roles, she still speaks out strongly and forcefully on the subject, having justice and women's rights at heart.

"I don’t think anyone in the right frame of mind would dare do that to me. I think the thing is, [those men who harass or assault women] are predators, and they know their prey. They understand, and they cultivate in such a way, that’s because they are predators. They are on the hunt. They know how to put, and sometimes put more fragile women in a certain position. […] I don’t think I would put up with that. If I know of a friend who would do something like that, that person would not be a friend. I think you have to, at the end of the day, I think, know who you are, and be brave to stand up for yourself. First of all, you have to be strong. If you feel you’re physically weak, then scream — your voice is loud." – Michelle Yeoh, The Hollywood Reporter (2018)

She is one of those actresses who had the chance to choose the roles she wanted, and this is an opportunity for her to promote women's rights. "I don’t endorse movies that are demeaning to women, especially the cliché of what Asian women should be. Because if you do that, then you endorse the fact that their thinking is right." – Michelle Yeoh, The Hollywood Reporter (2018)

Born into a practicing Buddhist family, she takes Buddhist philosophy to heart and advocates for the quest for self, but also for the respect of religions. "Buddhist philosophy grounds you as a person. Every one of us, we are always seeking." – Michelle Yeoh, Lion’s Roar (2015)

In 2015, she participated in humanitarian aid in Nepal, following the devastating earthquake and floods in the Ladakh region. On site in Kathmandu when the earth shook, killing 9,000 people, she was quickly evacuated, but decided to return two weeks later as an ambassador for Live to Love International, a Himalayan humanitarian organization led by Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa Buddhist school. "I felt there was no need to be afraid. It was very important to come back, to show appreciation for the people who took care of us. And to show the people in Nepal that we care." – Michelle Yeoh, Lion’s Roar (2015)

In Ladakh, in addition to helping flood victims, Yeoh visited Live to Love's animal rescue center, and attended performances by local artists.

"It’s very important to appreciate and enjoy what you have, and to share it with others. In Hollywood, you have this very glamorous life, but how do you find balance? You can’t always be materialistic. The spiritual side is the one that balances you and helps you understand that it’s not about the bigger car, the bigger house, or the bigger role. You’re always chasing something." – Michelle Yeoh, Lion’s Roar (2015)

Distinguished on numerous occasions, she has notably received the Asian Film Excellence Award at the Asian Film Awards in 2013, and the Most Honorable Tan Sri title awarded by the Malaysian state government in 2014. She was also named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2016, by the French Ambassador in Kuala Lumpur, becoming the first Malaysian citizen to receive this honor. In 2017, former French President, François Hollande, awarded her the highest French civilian honor, Commander of the Legion of Honor.

Michelle Yeoh is an inspiring actress through her outstanding career and her involvement in gender equality. She shows that it is possible to succeed in a male-dominated environment while remaining true to her values and defending her convictions. And today, thanks to her Oscar, she is a beacon of hope for the Asian communities, for all the people who look like her.


Article by Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon.

© Video AdT- Screen Actors Guild Award 2023