Chloé Zhao and Youn Yuh-jung made history at the 2021 Oscars on April 25th.
Zhao won Best Director for her film, Nomadland, making her the first woman of colour to and the second woman ever (after Katheryn Bigelow, who won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker) to win this prestigious award.
Nomadland also was awarded Best Picture and the film’s star, Frances McDormand, was awarded Best Actress.
During her acceptance speech, Zhao credited her father’s tradition of teaching her Chinese poetry as the guiding inspirational force in her life.
“There’s one that I remember so dearly, it’s called The Three Character Classics. The first phrase goes: ‘People at birth are inherently good,’ and those six letters had such a great impact on me when I was a kid. I still truly believe them today,” she said. “Even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I meet everywhere in the world. So, this is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves, and hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that.”
Later in the evening, Minari star Youn Yuh-jung had a history-making moment of her own, when she was presented the award for Best Supporting Actress. She is the first South Korean performer to win an Oscar for acting and the second actress of Asian descent to win in the supporting category, more than six decades after Miyoshi Umeki won in 1958 for “Sayonara.”
The 73-year-old actress continued her tradition of giving a charming acceptance speech, this time, fangirling over Brad Pitt (who presented her with the award), cheekily “forgiving” everyone for pronouncing her name wrong and thanking her sons for making her work, saying, “This is the result, because mommy work so hard.”
But Zhao and Youn weren’t the only Asians accepting awards at the Oscars — Black and Filipina songstress H.E.R. took home the award for Best Original Song for “Fight For You” from Judas and the Black Messiah.
“I am so, so, so grateful, not only to win but to be a part of such an important, important story,” the 23-year-old singer said in her acceptance speech. “Musicians, filmmakers I believe we have an opportunity and responsibility, to me, to tell the truth and to write history the way that it was and how it connects us to today and what we see going on in the world today.”
She continued, “Knowledge is power, music is power and as long as I’m standing I’m always going to fight for us, I’m always going to fight for my people and fight for what’s right and I think that’s what music does and that’s what storytelling does.”
Backstage, H.E.R., whose real name is Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, said she hoped her win would send a message “to all the young Black and Filipino girls that you can be up here too.” She added, “What you say matters. What you write, matters. It’s a reflection of who we are.”