I’m sure you’ve heard of Michelle Yeoh, the actress who has won every major film award this year – but the icon is anything but a newcomer to the industry.
In a cover story interview for Women Changing the World in People Magazine, Michelle was candid about her career, how far she’s come, and how at one point she had to refuse work to keep her peace.
Long before she was the Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild Award-winning leading lady everything everywhere at once Michelle was a martial arts movie star in the 80’s and 90’s.
Before her memorable supporting roles in major Hollywood franchises, she was a leading lady in Hong Kong Police Story 3: Super Cop And super cop 2 alongside Jackie Chan, another martial arts superstar – and caught Hollywood’s attention.
Michelle’s crossover brought a welcome change from a tired old, sexist Hollywood tradition. “The first film I did after coming to America was Tomorrow never dies with Pierce Brosnan,” she said. “James Bond was only known as macho at that point, and the girls were just the ones with cute names.”
But in the ’90s, progress was short-lived and Asian representation in Hollywood still had a long way to go. “When I first came to Hollywood, I was a little surprised when I was told, ‘First of all, you guys are a minority,'” she said. “At that point, people in the industry couldn’t really tell if I was Chinese or Japanese or Korean or if I spoke English at all.”
And that eventually led to Michelle refusing to work. “They spoke very loudly and very slowly [at me] … I haven’t worked for almost two years until Crouching Tiger [Hidden Dragon]simply because I could not agree with the role clichés that were presented.”
Now with an upcoming role as Madam Morrible in the film adaptation of Mean, the 60-year-old actress is at the top of her game — and still making strides for women of color in Hollywood. “In the past, that role would have been for a Caucasian lady,” she said. “That’s what we call diversity, inclusivity. Thats how it works. It’s a natural process – progression, evolution that we as storytellers can have.”
You’re seriously kicking ass, Michelle Yeoh – literally.