SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Matthew Hanjoong cheered excitedly with his hands in the air as he watched a historic moment unfold on TV - Michelle Yeoh won best actress at the 95th Academy Awards, making her the first woman of Asian descent to win in that category.
For the Korean American actor in Sacramento, the win couldn't have been more powerful.
"I felt like I was part of the audience, part of the collective amount of people just waiting for that name to be said out loud... It was just so beautiful, so perfect," said Hanjoong.
Yeoh won for her role in "Everything Everywhere All at Once," a sci-fi film that also claimed its own victories Sunday night, including Best Picture. Yeoh's co-stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan took home Oscars for best supporting actress and supporting actor. Quan is now the second actor of Asian descent to win in his category, following Haing Ngor, who won for his role in "The Killing Fields."
"Seeing Michelle and Ke holding those awards in their hands was inspiration and powerful. I hope their wins and speeches inspire Asian artists to chase their dreams and tell them that they can achieve that success in this industry. We don't have to follow the stereotypical path of doctor or engineer," said Hanjoong.
Both Yeoh and Quan emphasized the importance of representation in the film industry in their acceptance speeches, as well as the individual challenges they have faced as Asian actors in Hollywood. Yeoh called out to "all the little boys and girls who look like me," urging them to not lose hope on their dreams. Quan touched on the challenges he faced in his past, a journey that started on a boat and a year spent in a refugee camp.
"The boat he references is a scenario that is common to many Vietnamese refugees in particular, and in a way, it parallels the immigrant story he is portraying. It goes to show that there is an appetite for these stories that touch on our experiences or collective experiences as Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander individuals in America, regardless of background," said Jason Jong, the executive director of Sacramento Asian Pacific Cultural Village, producers of the Sacramento Asian Pacific Film Festival.
In another historical moment, "Naatu Naatu" from RRR won best original song. The song from the Telugu-language film is the first Indian film song to win an Oscar. The film follows two Indian freedom fighters and their fight against British colonialists in the 1920s.
"The song is really significant of the friendship of the two actors - friendship, values, sacrifices. The dance, the choreography of this one is not easy. I'm a dancer myself so I know how difficult it is. They literally put their heart and soul in that song, and it's a pride for the Indian community of this effort and hard work," said Vani Jata, a member of the Indian Association of Sacramento (IAS).
Another win for the Indian community was "The Elephant Whisperers" for the Best Documentary short film category, which details the significance of elephants in Indian culture, customs and history.
"Being a South Asian country, this is great exposure to Hollywood that this recognition is a lot and there's a unique talent on another side of the globe. I'm hoping this will open more venues for future projects and quality songs, movies, documentaries, whatever it is," said Venkat Nagam, also with IAS.
Nagam said he hopes the two wins will continue to connect people all over the world across cultures.
"The people who don't know in India about the Oscars, now they know," said Nagam. "Just by recognizing these two (wins), they won millions of hearts in India and the millions of viewers in the future. Now, they are all connected."
For actors like Hanjoong, all of these wins at the Oscars now cement his hopes for where the film industry can go. Hanjoong said he's inspired to work harder and push new boundaries.
"We should always want more," he said. "There's still glass ceilings for us. I don't want to see a token Asian character in film, that one person of color in that project so the studio can say, 'Oh, we represent everyone. We have that one person.'"