Ke Huy Quan continued his emotional awards season run and remarkable Hollywood comeback, moving the audience to tears on Sunday night when accepting his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Supporting Actor.
“To all those at home who are watching, who are struggling with waiting to be seen: Please keep on going because the spotlight will one day find you,” the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” star said in his speech, calling it “a really emotional moment for me.”
Quan noted that he is “the very first Asian actor to win in this category.” It’s a distinction that simultaneously demonstrates progress for Asian American representation in the film industry, while also illustrating the long and frustrating history of Asian erasure in Hollywood.
Perhaps no better example of that is Quan, whose role as multiverse-jumping husband Waymond in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” marked his return to acting after leaving Hollywood behind in the early 1990s due to a lack of roles for Asian American actors.
“This moment no longer belongs to just me. It also belongs to everyone who has asked for change,” he said on Sunday. “When I stepped away from acting, it was because there were so few opportunities.”
“And now tonight, here we are, celebrating James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Hong Chau, Harry Shum, Jr.,” he continued, listing off the other Asian actors who were also nominated at the ceremony, including his fellow “Everything Everything All At Once” castmates. “The landscape looks so different now than before. So thank you so much to all of you in this room and everyone who contributed to these changes.”
As Quan told HuffPost last year, after he found fame as a child actor in the 1980s hits “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the roles quickly dried up.
“I was in my early 20s, and all I was doing was waiting for the phone to ring. It rarely did — and when it did, it was to audition for a role where there were only two lines. It was at a time where it was very disheartening to be an Asian actor,” he said.
Fittingly, his return to acting three decades later was partially because of his now co-star Michelle Yeoh. The success of 2018′s “Crazy Rich Asians,” starring Yeoh as matriarch Eleanor Young, convinced him to throw his hat back into the ring.
He’s hopeful these last few years haven’t been just a blip, but a real transformation for Asian actors in Hollywood.
“Change is definitely happening. It might not move as fast as we want, but with all sustainable improvement, it happens gradually. My return to acting is a direct result of some of the progress that’s been made by the Asian talents working in Hollywood today,” he told HuffPost last year. “I can’t imagine how many others like myself out there, young and old, who share in the same dream that lay dormant for many years. So if you ask me what I hope our movie can do, I really hope ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ does for these dreamers what ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ did for me. That would make me really happy.”
In his speech Sunday, Quan paid special tribute to Yeoh, who will both star in the upcoming Disney+ series “American Born Chinese,” continuing the wave of major Asian-led projects on screen.
“I’m so glad that when we both started our careers in 1984, that one day, we would meet on the big screen. Love you, Michelle,” he said, before thanking “everyone for rooting for me. I’ll be rooting for you.”
Everyone likely will also be rooting for Quan at the Oscars on March 12, where he is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, among the film’s 11 Academy Award nominations.