Asian actors make history at 2023 Screen Actors Guild Awards, Emerson alum recognized

By Sophia Pargas, Editor-in-Chief

During the intro of the 29th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, actresses Janelle James and Quinta Brunson marveled at the beauty, energy, and talent in the room, professing: “There is inspiration everywhere you look.” 

This year’s SAG Awards, held on Feb. 26, celebrated the artwork of several Emerson alum among other esteemed artists. In addition, the ceremony marked a turning point for Asian American actors in the film industry. 

“Everything Everywhere All At Once,” directed by Daniel Scheinert ‘09 and Daniel Kwan ‘10, took home the most coveted award: Best Motion Picture Cast. The ensemble held hands around their table as the recognition was given, and danced on stage out of pure joy at the win. 

James Hong, who plays Gong Gong in the film and is the oldest member of the cast at 94 years old, spoke on the ensemble’s behalf. As he shared his testimony of Asian American representation throughout his career, his peers were moved to tears alongside him. The speech has since gone viral on social media.

Back in those days, [Asian roles] were played by [white] guys with their eyes taped up because producers said that Asians were not good enough and they were not ‘box office,’” Hong said during the speech. “But look at us now!”

Taking home another extremely prestigious award, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” star Michelle Yeoh was named Best Female Actor in a Leading Role for her character, Evelyn. Yeoh is the first Asian American actress to ever win the title. As she took to the stage, her hands formed a circle over her forehead, seemingly referencing the eyeball on her character’s temple during a large portion of the film. 

“I think if I speak, my heart will explode,” Yeoh said. 

In her speech, she took several moments of pause, shed many tears, and even let loose a few expletives—all while making a powerful statement about identity and determination. 

“This is not just for me, this is for every little girl that looks like me,” she said. “Thank you for giving me a seat at the table because so many of us need this. We want to be seen, we want to be heard—and tonight, you have shown us that it is possible.” 

In one of the most talked-about moments of the awards show, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” found another winner in Ke Huy Quan, who took home Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Evelyn’s husband Waymond Wang. While the victory is great nonetheless, it is even more monumental as Quan is also breaking barriers in his respective win. 

“I was told that if I were to win tonight, I would become the very first Asian actor to win in this category,” Quan said. “When I heard this, I quickly realized this moment no longer belongs to just me. It also belongs to everyone who has asked for change.” 

Before he left the stage, Quan offered a message of hope, resilience, and motivation to all those who have been watching his success. 

“To all those at home who are watching and struggling and waiting to be seen, please keep on going, because the spotlight will one day find you,” he said. “Thank you everyone for rooting for me, I will be rooting for you.” 

Amazingly, the wins for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” do not end here. Not one, but two cast members from the film were nominated in the Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role category: Jamie Lee Curtis for her role of Deirdre Beaubeirdre, and Stephanie Hsu for her role of Jobu Tupaki. Ultimately, Curtis was announced as the winner, and Hsu gave her a standing ovation as she approached the stage. 

“I know that so many people in our industry who are actors don’t get to do this job, and you look at nights like this and think, ‘Is that ever going to be possible for me?’” she said. “And I know you look at me and think ‘nepo baby, that’s why she’s there,’ and I totally get it. But the truth of the matter is I’m 64 years old, and this is just amazing.”  

In the television category, Jennifer Coolidge ‘85 took home yet another award for her role as Tanya McQuoid in “The White Lotus.” After being announced as Best Female Actor in a Drama Series, she took to the stage and delivered a speech fit for her sporadic and humorous personality. While cutting her own sentences off and making self-deprecating jokes, Coolidge also expressed her genuine gratitude for acting and for the show’s filmmaker. 

“I want you all to know that I am just so grateful—so grateful,” Coolidge said. “The best gift you can give someone is to change [their] perspective for the better, and that’s what Mike White did for me.” 

Among the night’s countless touching and heartfelt moments, perhaps the most emphatic came from Sally Field as she accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award. Her five-minute speech, which was referenced numerous times throughout the duration of the ceremony, detailed her passion for acting and all of the lessons it taught her. 

As she spoke, she seemed to forget the millions watching and instead spoke directly to those seated in front of her: her fellow actors. In all of their sincerity, her words evidently touched the hearts of everyone in the room of the awards, thus illuminating the same inspiration referenced at the very start of the show. 

“I was a little white girl with a pug nose born in Pasadena, California,” she said. “When I look around this room tonight, I know my fight—as hard as it was—was lightweight compared to some of yours. I thank you, and I applaud you. I know that for you, as for me, it has not been easy. But you know what? Easy is overrated.”