james hong sag awards speech


94-year-old ‘Everything Everywhere’ actor James Hong calls out vintage Hollywood yellowface in viral SAG Awards speech

'Everything Everywhere All at Once' won big at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 27, 2023

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a shoo-in to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, concluding a victory tour of triumphs like the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards this weekend.

Winning in all of its nominated categories (lead actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, and ensemble cast), Everything Everywhere dominated the SAGs, continuing a bittersweet narrative of acknowledging Hollywood racism while celebrating the film’s own success. There was no better example of this than James Hong’s role in accepting the cast’s ensemble prize, as his co-stars paid tribute to his 69-year career.

This speech is all over TikTok and Twitter right now, and for good reason. Making his debut in 1954, Hong has more than 450 screen credits under his belt, spanning decades when Asian and Asian-American actors were excluded from lead roles.

Now 94 years old, he played Gong Gong (Michelle Yeoh’s father) in Everything Everywhere. Onstage at the SAG Awards, his co-stars delivered a joint acceptance speech that placed Hong in the limelight. “There is one of us who has been supporting ensembles for longer than any of us have been alive,” said Michelle Yeoh, handing the mic to Hong.

His hilarious and biting speech encapsulated the complicated context of Everything Everywhere‘s groundbreaking role, with Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan as the first Asian actors to win SAG Awards in their respective categories.

“My first movie was with Clark Gable,” said Hong, to whoops and applause from the audience. “But back in those days, I have to tell you there’s [1937 film] The Good Earth. The leading role was played by these guys with their eyes taped like this and they talked like this,” he explained, illustrating The Good Earth’s use of yellowface and fake Chinese accents performed by white actors—a notorious example of Hollywood whitewashing.

Hong continued: “The producers said the Asians were not good enough, and they are not box office. But look at us now!”

His speech continued with praise for SAG and his co-stars, along with Everything Everywhere‘s directors, The Daniels. “I don’t know what they were thinking when they wrote that script. Right?” he joked, pointing into the audience. “Did you understand all of it? I’m not sure. Well, go see it a second and third time.”

Alongside Ke Huy Quan’s string of heartfelt awards-season speeches referencing his three-decade break from acting, Hong’s comments play into the image of Everything Everywhere as a belated victory for Asian American cinema as a whole.

In that context, it can feel slightly awkward to see majority-white crowds of Hollywood insiders get teary-eyed over these speeches. Those decades of discrimination were perpetuated by this very industry, after all. The people wielding the most power in that respect are producers, directors, and studio executives, but in the case of the SAG awards it’s literally the people in this room. Everything Everwhere is only a “groundbreaking” winner because the Screen Actors Guild previously failed to recognize any Asian actors in these categories.

Throughout awards season, the cast of Everything Everywhere have trod a fine line between calling out “past” racism while celebrating the film’s popularity, inviting the Hollywood establishment to join in that celebration. As a charming and beloved 94-year-old, James Hong has the most freedom to voice that message in a more critical tone. Usually, when actors reference classic stars like Clark Gable at this kind of event, it’s purely in reverential terms. But Hong used this brand of nostalgia for a bait-and-switch, highlighting the dark side of Hollywood’s past.

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*First Published: Feb 27, 2023, 9:01 am CST