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Arts and Entertainment

Asian Immigrant Parents Get Their Laurels On Oscar Night

An Asian man holds two Oscars, he's in a maroon velvet jacket, bolero tie and glasses.
Daniel Kwan attends the Governors Ball following multiple wins for "Everything Everywhere All At Once."
(ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
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Sunday’s Oscar ceremony represented how much things have come full circle for the Asian American talent behind Everything Everywhere All At Once.

It was their upbringing by immigrants that informed the knowing and heartbreaking exchanges between the Chinese immigrant mom and her American-raised daughter.

And it was those immigrant parents they thanked as their film dominated Oscar night, winning Best Picture, Best Director and three of the four acting categories, including Best Supporting Actor which went to Ke Huy Quan.

A diverse group of people are on stage in formal wear.
Jonathan Wang accepts the Best Picture award for "Everything Everywhere All at Once" with the cast and directors standing behind him.
(Kevin Winter
Getty Images)
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It was a record number of Asian Americans winning major categories, including the film’s producer Jonathan Wang. He noted how he and co-director Daniel Kwan each have a parent from Taiwan.

“This movie is very much a love song to our Taiwanese parents,” Wang told reporters after the ceremony. He shared that the film’s running “Raccacoonie” joke was inspired by his late father, who loved movies but always mixed up titles.

The weight of expectations

For all its genre-bending maximalism, Everything Everywhere All At Once takes a tender approach toward generational misunderstandings that arise in Asian families and how the immigrant experience — and the weight of expectations — can fracture parent-child relationships.

The lead character Evelyn Wang not only struggles to connect with her daughter, Joy but also the disapproving father she left behind when she eloped to the U.S. with the sweet-natured Waymond.

In a 2022 interview with Film Freak Central, Kwan alluded to childhood challenges in his family. But in his acceptance speech for directing honors that he shared with Daniel Scheinert, Kwan also described how his parents set him on his creative path.

His father, who is from Hong Kong, “fell in love with movies because he needed to escape the world and thus passed that love of movies onto me,” Kwan said. He added that his Taiwanese mother is “a creative soul, who wanted to be a dancer, an actor, a singer, but could not afford the luxury of that life path, and then gave it to me.”

In comments after the ceremony, Kwan recounted how his mother pulled him out of school when she thought his ability to write stories was deteriorating and home-schooled him herself for two or three years "just to protect my creativity."

'Mom, I just won an Oscar!'

When he came up to the stage to collect his Best Supporting Actor trophy, winner Ke Huy Quan held it up with both hands and looked into the camera, his voice quivering: “Mom, I just won an Oscar!”

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Quan, a Vietnamese-born actor of Chinese descent, thanked his 84-year-old mother for the “sacrifices you made to get me here." Quan has described leaving Vietnam as a young child with his father and siblings for a refugee camp in Hong Kong, while his mother went with other siblings to a camp in Malaysia.

"My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow I ended up here on Hollywood's biggest stage," Quan said.

Quan's family reunited in the L.A.-area where Quan became a child actor and starred in two blockbusters Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Goonies.

He is only the second Asian actor to win for supporting actor, following Haing Ngor, a fellow refugee who fled the Khmer Rouge before coming to the U.S. Ngor, who won in 1985 for his work in The Killing Fields was murdered 10 years later outside his home in Chinatown.

History-making win

Quan's co-star Michelle Yeoh also won an acting Oscar, making history as the first Asian winner of the Best Actress award and only the second woman of color to receive the honor. Halle Berry won in 2002 for Monster’s Ball.

The Malaysian-born Yeoh in her speech also dedicated her win to her mother, who was watching from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, and to "all the moms in the world.”

“They are really the superheroes and without them none of us will be here tonight,” Yeoh said.

The character arc of Yeoh's Evelyn has her reassessing her life and, it seems, much like the parents of the people who made the film, appreciating her loved ones for who they are.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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