Michelle Yeoh reflects on being underestimated by Hollywood and the indignity of stereotypes

Oscar-nominated actor Michelle Yeoh opens up about being stereotyped after her role as Mai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Last Updated on March 17, 2023

Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Tomorrow Never Dies, stereotypes

Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to Hollywood. She’s been kicking ass and taking names on screens since 1994, then hit the big time thanks to the Hong Kong action film series Supercop. Since her early days, Yeoh is a bright star among many in films like Memoirs of a GeishaCrouching Tiger, Hidden DragonSunshine, Gunpowder MilkshakeShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and, of course, Everything Everywhere All At Once. Her Hollywood breakthrough stems from her performance as Wai Lin in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. However, being a Bond girl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Speaking with People, Yeoh says the role was a double-edged sword with several drawbacks to her career.

“The first movie I did after I came to America was ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ with Pierce Brosnan,” Yeoh told People magazine. “James Bond at that point had only been known as macho, and the girls were just the ones with cutesy names.”

While Yeoh is grateful for the opportunity to play Mai Lin, one of the Bond franchise’s most independent and action-ready “Bond girls,” the offers spinning out of her performance left her feeling undervalued.

“At that point, people in the industry couldn’t really tell the difference between whether I was Chinese or Japanese or Korean or if I even spoke English,” Yeoh said. “They would talk very loudly and very slow [at me]. I didn’t work for almost two years, until ‘Crouching Tiger,’ simply because I could not agree with the stereotypical roles that were put forward to me.”

After enduring an undetermined amount of idiocy in the industry and persevering nonetheless, Yeoh is an Oscar-nominated actor and one of Hollywood’s biggest talents. She wields power and uses her influence to change things about her character’s she feels is playing close to stereotypes.

Before Yeoh signed on for Everything Everywhere All At Once, she demanded a name change for her character, saying she wouldn’t agree to the part if the writing bordered on tropes.

“The only thing I said to them was, ‘The character cannot be called Michelle Wang,’” Yeoh told Variety. “They’re like, ‘But why? It’s so you.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not an Asian immigrant mother who’s running a laundromat. She needs her own voice.’ That was the only thing. I’m like, ‘If you don’t change the name, I’m not coming in.’”

Michelle Yeoh is a treasure, and Hollywood needs to recognize her game. She breaks barriers and is willing to go to bat when others take what they can get. I hope she gets everything she wants and more!

Source: People, Variety

About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.