By Tiffany Fang
As the most nominated film of 2023, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is a game changer that goes to show that representation really does matter.
The Golden Globes commenced for its 80th awards show on January 10, 2023, and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022) dominated with a whopping six nominees and subsequent two wins attributed to the two phenomenally talented Asian leading actors of the film, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan with an additional eleven Oscar nominations, making it the most nominated film for this year’s 95th Oscars.
Part 1: Breaking it Down: Why It Meant "Everything."
For those who have not had the chance to see the film...what have you been doing for the past year?
No, I'm only kidding.
For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, ”Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022) follows a Chinese immigrant mother, Evelyn Wang, as she navigates her relationship with both her family and the world around her. The film contains many unique elements without a standard beginning, middle, and end plot structure. The three parts of the movie, “Everything”, “Everywhere”, and “All At Once”, depict three parts of a story, where “Everywhere” contains insanely abstract and random elements like hot dog fingers, silent talking rocks and fanny pack office fights. If you haven’t watched the movie, it might seem a little bit abnormal. I would love to tell you that it makes more sense as you watch it, but for me, it didn’t. Until the end, when everything (wink) finally made sense.
When the lights dimmed and the music began booming from the speakers, I sat there, wiggling excitedly in my theater chair next to my fellow Asian-American friends. We had, of course, decided to watch this movie with each other; it wouldn’t be the same experience otherwise.
I lightly chuckled at the beginning of the movie as I watched the way Evelyn interact with her husband, Waymound Wang, as he tried to get her attention while she was busy managing the laundromat they owned. The accuracy of her tone, Chinese pronunciation, attitude, and even outfit down to the puffer vest and cheap beaten-up sneakers that so many Asian parents and grandparents wear (the way my Mom and Grandma used to) made me feel like I knew her, as if I had met this woman before.
Their daughter, Joy’s, distinct difference in her attitude and her Americanness brought her character to life. Her relationship with her white girlfriend is something she is persistently trying to get her mother to support while attempting to build the courage to eventually tell Gong Gong (her grandfather). Unfortunately, Evelyn does not particularly approve of this relationship, and introduces Joy’s girlfriend as 朋友 (which means “friend” instead of “girlfriend”) to Gong Gong, Evelyn’s father. As predicted, this strains their relationship even further and builds an increasing resentment between them.
I was not surprised by this action, as I have noticed in my own experiences, that within older generations of Chinese culture, LGBTQIA+ does not gain a lot of support. Of course, this does not mean that all families and older generations within Chinese culture are unsupportive, but it is relatively common. The Trevor Project study conducted in 2019 found that many young Asian-Pacific Islanders felt afraid of “putting themselves and their families at risk of shame and discrimination.”
There’s a moment where Evelyn frantically runs out to say one last word to Joy before she leaves with her girlfriend. She stares at her, struggling to get the words out: “You have to try and eat healthier.”
After a moment of silence, she says, “You are getting fat.” This one sentence alone carried significantly more weight than a simple remark on Joy’s weight.
It was Evelyn’s way of diverting from saying what she actually thought, a form of vulnerability and intimacy she was unfamiliar with sharing with her daughter.
This form of double meaning or inability to express direct affection is incredibly common within Asian cultures. Sam Louie, a writer for Psychology Today, explains this concept perfectly in his satirical article, The 5 Asian Love Languages. The interaction in between shows a common disconnect that many Asian-American children feel with their Asian immigrant parents.
In addition to her struggling relationship with her daughter, Evelyn deals with an incredibly condescending (“Karen”- esque) IRS auditor, Deirdre. This might seem like a small portion of the movie, but the way that this old, white IRS agent treats Evelyn and her family is extremely representative of the disdainful and patronizing way that many people treat immigrants in the United States, especially when there is a language barrier. Deidre’s invalid annoyance is evident with the response “I thought you were going to bring your translator” when Evelyn expressed that she did not understand what Deirdre was saying in addition to the sighs and exasperation that occur when Evelyn speaks to Waymound and Gong Gong in Chinese. When Deidre first began speaking, I felt myself clenching my fists and biting my tongue because this character all too familiar and a little bit too real; I recognize the glances and side eyes my parents would get when they spoke in Chinese, for being the only Asian people in the room, or for misunderstanding what someone had said. We are constantly surrounded by Deidres who will never cease making us feel that we take up too much space in a room devoid of diversity.
The “Everywhere” part of the movie dives deep into her life by traversing her choices, her identity, and her relationship with her family. When pulled into alternative realities, she sees what her life could have been like if she had not decided to immigrate to the United States with Waymound, specifically against her parents’ wishes. Memories of her arguments with Joy about various things like tattoos and girlfriends flash through her mind. She is shown her entire life, and has to fight to ultimately save the universe. But this is all insignificant in the scheme of things, the “saving the world”-type scenario. It is the deeper meaning of these situations that gives the movie meaning. She finally learns why she went though all of this chaos. She also discovers that she has made Waymound feel like he is a nuisance or burden in her life, which led him to reluctantly hand her divorce papers.
“You think I’m weak, don’t you? When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything."
"I know you see yourself as a fighter. Well, I see myself as one too. This is how I fight,” he explains emotionally.
It was at this moment that she realized that what she thought was her husband’s weakness throughout their entire marriage was actually his strength, and she recounts all the times that this strength of his has made an impact in her life, in contrast with the dismissive comments and negative memories she recalls at the beginning of the movie. She finally sees him, and remembers why she fell in love with him in the first place.
She then realizes that what her father did to her is what she was doing to Evelyn, and that her entire life, she the pressure of what he wanted her to do, and the way it made her feel deeply insecure, especially when he tells her that she isn’t her daughter. Most importantly, she realizes that she has been hurting her daughter for years, and arguing over things that, in the end, do not really matter.
"It’s okay if you’re not proud of me. Because I finally am. I spent most of her childhood praying she would not end up like me. She turned out to be stubborn, aimless, a mess, just like her mother.
But now I see that it’s okay that she’s a mess, because just like me, the universe gave her someone kind, patient, and forgiving to make up for all she lacks.”
She finally introduces Joy’s girlfriend as 女朋友 (“girlfriend”), but Joy is still upset. Joy is crying, and still feels the pain and disconnect between her and Evelyn and expresses how overwhelming it is for her. Evelyn expresses that she does disapprove of many things that Joy does, but that it does not matter because in the end, she tells Joy:
"I will always want to be here with you."
The two finally have a heart to heart, and finally express how they feel towards each other, a breakthrough of vulnerability that the two characters have not had throughout their entire relationship. Evelyn's ability to see her life from a fresh perspective allowed her to finally understand Joy despite their differences in opinions and outlooks on life. Evelyn's acceptance of Joy's sexuality and girlfriend came from her own realization of the role that Waymound played in her own life, recognizing that it was most vital for Joy to be happy.
This scene singlehandedly removed all traces of my makeup.
I heard sniffling within the dead silence of the theater, and I turned to my right and my left to see my friends’ faces shining with glossy tears as well. This situation, this relationship, these feelings, are so common and universal within the Asian-American community, and it was at this moment that I knew this movie was different than the others.
Because in the end, she finally realizes that everything is insignificant and that what matters is not all of the universe's possibilities; it's her family.
Part 2: API Representation In Hollywood is NOT "Everywhere."
According to a study conducted by USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 4 percent of Asian and Pacific islanders starred as leads or co-leads in Hollywood films. 39% of the films analyzed had no API characters at all, 67% of the API characters that did exist were stereotyped, and a whopping 75% had little to no dialogue at all. Less than 6 percent of 51,159 actors with speaking roles in films were API. These statistics are concerningly low, but unsurprising. I can probably name every prominent API actor in Hollywood, and most of them are all recast for the same API movies. Probably half of them are Crazy Rich Asians, and the other half in Shang Chi. It is not to say that these actors and actresses should not be recasted for other roles; they are all clearly phenomenal. The problem is that they are reused constantly for very similar roles, and there doesn’t seem to be enough API actors and actresses and Hollywood.
Where the hell is the diversity?
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wang was the first prominent Chinese-American actress to make it big in Hollywood in. Unfortunately, almost if not all her roles were tainted with racism. She was only given roles that fell and further pushed the harmful Asian stereotype. The only way she was able to gain any type of fame or push forward in her acting career was to blatantly accept the offensive roles and mistreatment. And although this was a huge milestone in that is signaled the beginning of Asian representation on the big screen as more Asian actors have entered Hollywood, there are still many things that have remained the same.
Michelle Yeoh, who recently won for Best Actress in Musical or Comedy Motion Picture at the 80th Golden Globes for her remarkable performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” has been in the film industry for almost 40 years. She first began as a side character in many of Jackie Chan’s movies, and gained more public attention when she starred as in “Crazy Rich Asians," just two years ago as in “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and of course, most recently, in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022). In her most recent Golden Globes speech, she speaks out about the struggles she has faced through her years in Hollywood, and that it took a large amount of perseverance and hard work to get to where she is now.
“I remember when I first came to Hollywood, it was a dream come true until I got here because look at this face. I came here and was told ‘You’re a minority.’"
Ke Huy Quan
Ke Huy Quan, a Vietmanese-American actor who played Waymound Wang in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” actually made his very, first appearance at a mere thirteen years old as Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984). This was his first and most prominent role as an actor until his most recent performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” In his speech after winning Best Supporting Actor in Musical or Comedy Motion Picture at the 80th Golden Globes, Quan highlights the struggles he faced in the industry and his worries that his career would start and end with that very first role.
"When I started my career as a child actor, I felt very lucky to have been chosen. As I grew older, I started to wonder if that was it. Through so many years, I was afraid that I had nothing more to offer. Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me."
"They remembered that kid, and they gave me the opportunity to try again."
These two leading stars worked their entire lives to get where they are now, and Michelle is the first Asian actress to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. The fact that this is the first time within the last century of Academy awards that this has ever happened is actually very telling of just how much Asian representation is lacked in Hollywood, not to mention the very sparse amount of big-name Asian-lead movies, all already listed within this article.
Part 3: It Impacted the API Community "All At Once."
Any time I had hear of a movie with an Asian ensemble, I was bouncing with excitement, and always made sure to buy a ticket right away. On my way to the theater, I would literally be jumping up and down and whisper-screaming through my teeth as the movie began, and leaving the theater speechless. Needless to say, it is probably no surprise that I watched both “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”and “Crazy Rich Asians” the moment they were released; Shang Chi was the first movie I watched since lockdown from COVID; the one movie my parents deemed acceptable to watch in theaters, finally (lol). It is probably even less of a surprise that I did indeed sob while watching both — multiple times each.
Seeing Asian and Pacific Islanders being represented on the big screen has always been so important to me, as I am sure it is to many other Asian-Americans, but there was something quite different about this one. Everything felt so authentic (besides the theatric in-between multiverse antics, of course).
Although I do absolutely adore and thoroughly enjoyed “Crazy Rich Asians,” there are some flaws in that movie in particular that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” wiped away. The movie perpetuate some stereotypes about Asian people, which is still a flaw that exists within media representation. While we are (by definition) “represented”, it is oftentimes inauthentic and offensive, which can be even more harmful than none at all. “Crazy Rich Asians” in particular paints all Asian people as stuck-up, snaky and lavishly rich (which is further prolonging the idea of the minority myth, which pits minorities against one another). Although it is a wholeheartedly fun movie to watch as an Asian person who knows this to be an exaggeration of the API community, to those who are not Asian, this can be harmful, especially since there is such a sparse number of films that contain a full Asian cast.
This showed an ordinary immigrant Chinese family, dealing with realistic problems that many families face. The dialogue is clearly written from real experience and heart, specifically by Chinese-American director and screenwriter Daniel Kwan. The simplicity of the beginning and the end and how it ties together is what makes this movie so different from the others, and it paves the path for all future API movies.
And even if every possible outcome in Evelyn's life was insignificant, it's clear that this movie is far from it.
Because this is just the beginning for everything to come.
Tiffany Fang (@tiffanym.f) is an Asian-American first-year Advertising student at the University of Florida. As already stated, she cried about a million times when watching literally any movie with an all-Asian cast. When she's not writing for Rowdy, you can find her adding overlapping events to her Google Calendar, living in the library, or spending way too much money on clothes she doesn't (but convinces herself that she does) need.