NEW YORK – We are conditioned to think of an Oscar win as the endpoint to a journey. For some actors, holding that trophy is the realisation of a dream held since childhood. For others, it is the culmination of a well-deserved comeback.
But what happens after that win? In our eagerness to treat Oscar victories as career capstones, do we pay too little attention to the opportunities that are supposed to come afterwards, yet often do not?
I have been mulling that over since Sunday night, when Michelle Yeoh took the best actress Oscar for Everything Everywhere All At Once. It happened at the 95th edition of the Academy Awards, the kind of big, tantalising milestone that prods you to contemplate what has come before and Yeoh’s win proved especially historic. The first Asian star to win best actress, she was greeted on stage by Halle Berry, the first black woman to have pulled off that feat.
Asking Berry to announce the winner with Jessica Chastain (the previous year’s winner) was a gamble twice over. If Yeoh had lost to one of her four competitors – all of whom were white women – the ensuing photo op would have served as a stark example of a best-actress category that has been hostile to women of colour for 95 years.
And although Berry has returned to the Oscars several times since her 2002 win for Monster’s Ball, it has always been as a presenter and never as a nominee. To see her there is to be reminded that an Oscar win carries no guarantees when an actress is already liable to receive fewer scripts and career opportunities than her white counterparts.
So, although Yeoh’s triumph was a long time coming and I teared up as she addressed “all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight”, I also found myself worrying that it will not be enough. The people in the Dolby Theatre looked awfully proud of themselves after Yeoh’s win, but if they really want to do right by her, they have to keep writing lead...