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NPR Called Out for Saying Michelle Yeoh ‘Identifies as Asian’ Following Historic Oscar Win

"She is Asian" began trending as some thought NPR's messaging was diminishing a woman of color's triumph.

Michelle Yeoh at the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Michelle Yeoh at the 2023 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Variety via Getty Images

Michelle Yeoh’s historic Oscar win is drawing attention everywhere all at once.

The “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star was congratulated by NPR’s official Twitter page as part of a breaking news update. However, audiences are taking issue with the wording of NPR’s post.

NPR tweeted, “BREAKING: Michelle Yeoh wins the Oscar for best actress making history as the first person who identifies as Asian to win the award.”

Twitter added a context card reading: “The tweet is factually correct, but missing context to explain wording. Merle Oberon was the first Asian woman nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1935. Oberon hid her heritage to avoid discrimination. Michelle Yeoh, however, is open about her Asian heritage.”

However, Oberon is not mentioned in NPR’s linked article, nor did the late actress win the award, still making “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Yeoh the first Asian star to win Best Actress.

The NPR tweet immediately received backlash over the word “identifies,” with journalists writing “WTH” and fans wondering how Yeoh would be able to “hide” her heritage in the first place. “She is Asian” began trending with over 18,000 tweets in response, with many thinking that the tweet was an attempt at diminishing her historic win.

Leading into awards season, Yeoh has addressed what it would mean to be the first Asian actress to win the honor.

“This is actually a historical moment,” Yeoh said backstage at the Oscars press room. “So I really have to thank the Academy for acknowledging and embracing diversity and true representation. I think this is something that we have been working so hard towards for a very long time, and tonight we freaking broke that glass ceiling. I kung fu’d it out and shattered it.”

She continued, “And we need this, because there are so many who have felt unseen, unheard. It’s not just the Asian community — this is for everyone who has ever identified as a minority. We deserve to be heard, we deserve to be seen, we deserve to have equal opportunities so we can have a seat at the table. That’s all we are asking for. Give us that opportunity, let us prove we are worth it.”

Yeoh previously told IndieWire that she felt a sense of “responsibility” as an Asian actress to represent her heritage and community onscreen. “For us, [it was] the name change. You want to make sure that the distributors or buyers buy your film, you have to give them names that are more Caucasian,” Yeoh, who was born Yeoh Choo Kheng, said. “We all added an English name instead of just using our own name, because at that time, we were made to understand that this would make it easier. It would make it more acceptable.”

Now, “Times have changed,” she said. “We have changed. The audience, the people, everyone. The people who make the movies, the people who are watching the movies, the whole world has changed into ‘Let’s accept each other. Yes, we are different, but we are the same. We are still people of the world.”

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