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Oscars Spotlight: Everything to know about Best Picture Contender Everything Everywhere All at Once

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

The Lead: Michelle Yeoh

Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh was initially known for her many roles in action films (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the Police Story films, for example). Additionally, she rose to greater prominence with her supporting role in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. In many ways, Yeoh should have been as illustrious a star in the West as Jet Li or Jackie Chan long before 2023 (she, too, always performs her own stunts). Instead, due in part to Western bias and other more complex factors surrounding the promotion of the careers of actors who are persons of colour, Yeoh wasn’t afforded superstar status in quite the same way, though she was well known globally.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Enter Everything Everywhere All at Once. The film is hard to characterize in one sentence, but I’ll try. It’s essentially a smorgasbord of happenings and influences, in which a Chinese immigrant in the US, (Yeoh) hops through several dimensions and navigates her complex relationship with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu).

Everything Everywhere All at Once was released during a time when the cinematic climate was overly saturated with fantasy and sci-fi films and television shows. Yeoh’s performance, which runs the gamut from comedic to serious and emotive, is compelling. It also gives voice to an often-marginalized group: older Asian women, who, like all minority groups, are often pigeonholed into particular tropes. Yeoh’s Evelyn escapes this by being treated as a fully-fledged human being, once primarily haunted by her father’s willingness to disown her. Her fears are in turn projected onto Joy, forming the basis of their difficult relationship.

Why Everything Everywhere All at Once should win Best Picture

The Oscars only recently relaxed the restriction on foreign language films being eligible for the category of Best Picture, historically paving the way for South Korean film Parasite to scoop up the award in 2020. Although Everything Everywhere All at Once is mostly an English language film, its characters speak Chinese (both Mandarin and Cantonese) and English interchangeably. Thus, before 2020, a film like Everything Everywhere All at Once might not have been in contention for the Best Picture Oscar. Secondly, if Everything Everywhere All at Once does win the Best Picture award, it would signal a massive win for diverse representation. Yellowface, the practice of having white actors don yellowish makeup to resemble South East Asians, was once a standard practice in Hollywood (much like Blackface), and East Asian characters were generally depicted as caricatures and stereotypes (see Breakfast at Tiffany’s). As one of film’s leads, James Hong, who plays Yeoh’s father Gong Gong in the film, remarked, “The producers said the Asians were not good enough and they are not box office. But look at us now!” Hong also pointed directly to Hollywood’s racist caricatures by pointedly pulling up the skin of his eyes and remarking that actors’ eyes were usually taped up to have them seemingly resemble South East Asians. If Everything Everywhere All at Once wins the Best Picture Oscar, the win would signal, at least in part, a major departure from the painfully inaccurate representations of people of colour in American cinema. A win would also build on Parasite’s win some years earlier, and hopefully continue Hollywood’s awards season’s attempts to rehabilitate its overly white and (cis)male-centric focus.

Lastly, a triumph for Everything Everywhere All at Once is also a triumph for genre itself. Everything Everywhere All at Once, with its mishmash of influences, “potty” humour, and heavy action scenes, is not the sort of film that would typically (and snobbishly) be considered Best Picture worthy. A win, therefore, signals a new approach to appraising films at large, one less considered with arbitrary definitions of “high” and “low” cinema.

Ultimately, Everything Everywhere All at Once is a stellar film, and its success during the Hollywood awards season circuit is a win for diversity and a well-deserved pivot to greater recognition for its stars.

I am a aspiring writer, currently majoring in English and Film Studies.