Michelle Yeoh has won the Academy Award for best actress at the Oscars 2023 and made history. The actress, who was born in Malaysia, set a record on Sunday by becoming the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for best actress for her intricate work in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
However, many people don’t realize that Michelle isn’t the first Asian to be nominated for the honor. Yeoh was preceded by Merle Oberon 87 years ago, although no one was aware of Oberon’s ethnicity at the time. Let us know more about Merle Oberon.
Who was Merle Oberon?
The first actress of Asian heritage to receive an Academy Award nomination was Merle Oberon. She never revealed, however, that she was of South Asian descent, and the information only surfaced years after her passing.
Oberon was one of the bright lights of the Hollywood Golden Age and later appeared in hit movies like Désirée and Wuthering Heights. She lived her entire life hiding her South Asian ancestry out of fear that it would ruin her career. For her work in The Dark Angel, Oberon received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Oberon was raised in absolute poverty in Calcutta after being born in Bombay to a white father and a Sri Lankan-Maori mother. Fearing a reaction from a racist film business, she maintained she was raised in Tasmania and that her birth certificate was destroyed in a fire when she relocated to England to pursue acting at the age of 17.
Her heritage was made public in 1983, four years after she passed away at age 68 from a stroke, in the book Merle by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley.
“Few could ever compare with [her], either as a timeless beauty or as a member of Hollywood’s royalty,” wrote Robert Osborne in a tribute to her on Nov. 26, 1979. “She was, in a word, class.”
Among all of the confusion, NPR tweeted that Michelle made history as the first person who identifies as Asian to win the award. This caused outrage on social media as people clarified that Yeoh doesn’t ‘identify’ as Asian, she is Asian.