The unprecedented success of Everything Everywhere All at Once is undoubtedly this year’s biggest Oscar surprise. It’s a film far from the traditional awards bait that audiences typically see sweeping the cinema’s biggest night. But even beyond that welcome shock, there was a second astonishing outlier as a part of the film’s story.
Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan had not appeared in a major studio film for more than two decades before returning to the silver screen last year, as a grounding force in the Daniels’ off-the-walls movie.
Quan’s incredible comeback story had already made him the favorite to win, but with such a stacked category, nothing is ever guaranteed.
When 2022’s Oscar winners for Best Supporting Actress and Actor—Ariana DeBose and Troy Kotsur, respectively—took the stage at the Dolby Theater on Sunday night, the room was already buzzing with anticipation. Quan’s place among the other nominees put everyone on the edge of their seats as Kotsur and DeBose read off the nominees.
But when DeBose opened the winner’s envelope, even she couldn’t keep her voice from breaking as she announced Quan’s win.
Quan walked to the stage among audience members jumping out of their seats to honor him with a standing ovation, and took in the view from the stage. “My mom is 84 years old, and she’s watching,” he began. “Mom, I just won an Oscar!”
While plenty of nominees take the Oscars stage to thank their parents, Ke Huy Quan’s speech was tinged with a constant emotional undercurrent, courtesy of his story as an American immigrant. “My journey started on a boat, I spent a year in a refugee camp and somehow I ended up here, on Hollywood’s biggest stage.”
“They say stories like this can only happen in movies,” he continued. “I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This is the American dream. Thank you so much to The Academy for this honor of a lifetime. Thank you to my mom for the sacrifices she made to get me here. To my little brother, David, who calls me every day just to remind me to take care of myself.
While Quan traditionally thanked Everything Everywhere’s distribution company, A24, and the film’s directors, he ended with an emotional tribute to his wife that left no dry eyes in the house. To the love of my life, my wife Echo, who—month after month, year after year, for 20 years—told me that one day my time will come. Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
Left on stage to present the next award, DeBose could only muster a few words through her tears. “I’m a big softie, I’m still crying.” You and all of the rest of us, Ariana.
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