Representation everywhere at the 2023 SAG Awards

It was an exciting night for representation at the 29th annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. David Ho scopes out the highlights

The cast of Everything Everywhere All at Once (EEAAO) won big. Michelle Yeoh scored a historic victory by becoming the first Asian actress to win “Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role”. Since the SAG Awards started in 1995, Yeoh is only the second-ever Asian actress nominated for the best actress category. The first nomination went to Yeoh’s Memoirs of a Geisha co-star Zhang Ziyi in 2006.

The nominees for this year’s best actress category are the most ethnically diverse lineup in the award show’s history, as it marked the first time that women of colour were the majority. Others in the running were Ana de Armas (for Blonde), Viola Davis (for The Woman King), Danielle Deadwyler (for Till) and Cate Blanchett (for Tar).

Yeoh’s triumph also marks the second time an Asian actress has won a film acting prize, following Yuh Jung Youn’s supporting actress trophy for Minari in 2021. Previous SAG Award winners of Asian descent, like Sandra Oh and Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae and Hoyeon Jung, have hailed from television productions.

“This is not just for me, it’s for every little girl who looks like me,” said an overwhelmed Yeoh in her acceptance speech, clearly aware of the significance of her achievement for Asian actresses.

“Thank you for giving me a seat at the table because so many of us need this. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. And tonight, you have shown us that it is possible, and I am grateful,” said Yeoh. “And my mum will be eternally grateful to you!” she quipped, referencing the stereotype of Asian mothers with high expectations.   

On a roll this awards season, Yeoh is riding a high all the way to the upcoming Oscars, where she is up for a Best Actress gong. Her Oscards nomination is the second time an Asian is up for the best actress Oscar since Merle Oberon for The Dark Angel in 1936, who kept her part Ceylonese heritage concealed throughout her career.

The SAG Awards are indicative of the Oscars’ outcome, as final Oscar voting takes place from March 2 to 7. EEAAO also won Best Motion Picture cast at the SAG Awards.

Her EEAAO co-star Ke Huy Quan also became the first Asian male to win an individual film acting award. At the start of his acceptance speech, an emotional Quan revealed that he had only recently heard that he would be “the very first Asian actor to win in this category” if he won.

“When I heard this, I quickly realised that this moment no longer belongs to just me, it also belongs to everyone who has asked for change,” he said. “When I stepped away from acting it was because there were so few opportunities.”

After stepping away from acting in the late 90s, Quan was inspired to return to it after seeing the success of Crazy Rich Asians (starring Yeoh) in 2018.

Ke Huy Quan wearing a Gucci suit at the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza.
Photo courtesy of Gucci.

“Now tonight, here we are celebrating James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Hong Chau, Harry Shum Jr…. The landscape looks so different now than before. So thank you so much to everyone in this room who contributed to these changes.”

Like Yeoh, Quan also has Oscars buzz going with his turn in EEAAO. He is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. If he bags the Oscar, he would be only the second Asian winner ever for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. The first went to Haing S. Ngor for The Killing Fields in 1985.

EEAAO’s Stephanie Hsu was nominated for best supporting actress. Hong Chau from The Whale was also nominated in the same category, marking the first time two Asian actresses were in the running for the award. However, the best supporting actress award went to another EEAAO cast member, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Other notable wins include Brendan Fraser winning Best Actor for The Whale and a couple of wins for The White Lotus (Best Drama Cast, Best Female Supporting Actress for Jennifer Coolidge).

Sally Field received a lifetime achievement award, presented to her by her Spider-man co-star Andrew Garfield. “In all of these almost 60 years, there is not a day that I don’t feel quietly thrilled to call myself an actor,” she told the audience.

Jessica Chastain was named best actress in a TV movie or miniseries for George & Tammy, where she played country music legend Tammy Wynette. She was up against fierce competition from nominees that played characters based on real life, like Julia Garner (for Inventing Anna) and Amanda Seyfried (for The Dropout).

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