How Michelle Yeoh’s historic Oscar win was a lot like Halle Berry’s

At this year’s Oscars, Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) made history by becoming the very first Asian performer to win Best Actress. Not only that, she’s just the second woman of color to have prevailed in that category following Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” (2001). Interestingly, both of them had similar trajectories getting to Hollywood’s biggest night.

Heading into the 2001 Oscar season, the early frontrunner for Best Actress was Sissy Spacek for “In the Bedroom.” That movie marked the feature directorial debut for Todd Field, who at that point had worked in the industry mostly as an actor who also made short films on the side. And Spacek was already a previous winner for “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980).

She ended up winning the Critics Choice Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe for Best Film Drama Actress (Best Film Comedy/Musical Actress went to Nicole Kidman for “Moulin Rouge!”). At the Screen Actors Guild Awards, “In the Bedroom” had three nominations overall as it was also recognized for best film ensemble and best lead actor for Tom Wilkinson in addition to Spacek’s nom. But Halle Berry pulled off a huge upset against her. Then at the BAFTAs, where Spacek was nominated but Berry wasn’t, Judi Dench won Best Actress for “Iris.”

On Oscar night, “In the Bedroom” had five nominations (including Best Picture), but it sadly went home empty handed. Meanwhile, history was made as Halle Berry became the very first (and to date, only) African-American to win Best Actress. And on that same night Denzel Washington became the second African-American to win Best Actor for “Training Day” following Sidney Poitier for “Lilies of the Field” (1963).

Now let’s compare that to what just happened. Heading into the 2022 Oscar season, Cate Blanchett was the early Best Actress frontrunner for “TÁR.” That movie not only marked Todd Field’s third feature film, but his first since “Little Children” back in 2006. Blanchett had already won Oscars twice before for “The Aviator” (2004) and “Blue Jasmine” (2013). And for “TÁR” she managed to win the Golden Globe (for Best Film Drama Actress), Critics Choice Award, and BAFTA Award.

As for Michelle Yeoh, she won the Golden Globe for Best Film Comedy/Musical Actress. At SAG, where Cate Blanchett was the only recognition “TÁR” received, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” swept the night by winning a total of four awards (including best film ensemble), and Yeoh managed to take down Blanchett for the first time in the season. Then on Oscar night, “TÁR” had six nominations (including Best Picture). But ultimately, like “In the Bedroom,” it sadly went home empty-handed.

Meanwhile, Michelle Yeoh replicated her win at SAG. As fate would have it, one of the people who presented the Oscar to her was Halle Berry, passing the baton from one historic winner to the next. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had quite a night overall by winning a grand total of seven Oscars, with Best Picture being among them. And one more thing that Berry and Yeoh have in common is that they’re both former Pierce Brosnan Bond girls. Yeoh appeared in 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” while Berry was in 2002’s “Die Another Day.” So cinema history will remember their names together in more ways than one.

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