Oscars 2023: The groundbreaking firsts and historical milestones

HUNGER rounds up the first-ever moments from the 2023 awards ceremony to give you the lowdown on the most historic feats from Sunday evening.

Michelle Yeoh was the first Asian star to win Best Actress

In the 95-year history of the Academy Awards, not one Asian star has won Best Actress. That’s until Michelle Yeoh made history this Sunday, taking home the award for her role as wife, mother, and laundromat owner Evelyn Wang from A24’s Everything, Everywhere All at Once. Yeoh’s victory surpassed strong competition, including Cate Blanchett for her role in Tár and Michelle Williams for The Fabelmans. Yeoh is also nominated for a Bafta, a Golden Globe, and the Screen Actors Guild award, all for Best Actress. She dedicated her Oscar win to “all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams — dream big, and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”

Brendan Fraser’s first win in a category of first-time nominees

In a category filled with first-time nominees, it was Brendan Fraser who took the Oscar for Best Actor in The Whale. Fraser’s comeback story follows wins at the Critics Choice Awards and the Screen Actors Guild, and his first-ever nomination at the Academy Awards marked his simultaneous first win. Based on a play by Samuel D. Hunter, The Whale shows Fraser in the last days of his life as a 600-pound college instructor and teacher. He defeated the likes of Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin, as well as Austin Butler in Elvis who was a favourite to win. He thanked director Darren Aronofsky and write Hunter in his speech, saying, “You laid your whale-sized hearts bare so we could see into your souls.” Fraser closed his speech on a final note: “I started in this business 30 years ago. Things didn’t come easily to me but there was a facility I didn’t appreciate at the time until it stopped.”

Ke Huy Quan was the first Vietnamese-born Oscar winner 

Ke Huy Quan took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Everything, Everywhere All at Once for his role as the husband of co-star Michelle Yeoh. The win cements his place as one of Hollywood’s best comebacks alongside Fraser, after appearing in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies in the 90s. He became a stunt choreographer and assistant director before returning to the screen in the 2020s. Born in Vietnam, the win is the first for someone of this descent and marks the first year for two Asian actors to win an Oscar in history. A tearful Quan exclaimed in his speech, “Mom, I just won Oscar! 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 only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This — this is the American dream!”.

‘Naatu Naatu’ was the first Indian-produced song to be nominated for, and win, an Oscar

The dance hit ‘Naatu Naatu’ marked the first Indian-produced song to be nominated for and win an Oscar from the Indian blockbuster RRR – short for Rise, Roar, Revolt – that told the story of two revolutionaries fighting against British rule in India. The first Indian number to win the award was A.R Rahman’s tune for British-made Slumdog Millionaire, but ‘Naatu Naatu’ was the first-ever Indian-produced to win. It beat out two songs featuring American megastars, Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and had already made history in January when it won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song which was a first for India. Upon accepting the Oscar, composer MM Keeravani said the song was “the pride of every Indian”. He credited The Carpenters music duo as inspiration for his music, and sang the rest of his speech to their hit tune ‘Top Of The World.’

The Elephant Whisperers was the first-ever Indian-produced film to win 

In a big night for India, a short film documentary by the name of The Elephant Whisperers about an orphaned baby elephant named Raghu has become the first-ever Indian-produced film to win an Oscar. Director Kartiki Gonsalves dedicated it to her “motherland, India.” The Best Documentary winner tells the story of an indigenous couple named Bomman and Bellie caring for their baby elephant. “Thank you to the Academy for recognizing our film, highlighting Indigenous people and animals. To Netflix, for believing in the power of this film,” she said. Producer Guneet Monga shared the news on her Instagram, captioning it: “Tonight is historic as this is the first ever Oscar for an Indian production. India’s Glory with 2 women.”

Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman to win two Oscars

Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer best known for Marvel’s Black Panther, made history by becoming the first Black woman to win two Oscars. Her first win was in 2019 for Black Panther, then marking the first Black person to win in the costume design category. She now holds the second for her work on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, beating out Catherine Martin in Baz Luhramnn’s Elvis and Shirley Kurata for Everything, Everywhere All at Once. Carter has been nominated four times in total, for Malcolm X in 1992 and then for Steven Spielberg’s Amistad in 1997. “I pulled myself up from my bootstraps,” Carter said in her acceptance speech. “I started – a single-parent household. I wanted to be a costume designer. I studied, I scraped, I dealt with adversity in the industry that sometimes didn’t look like me. I endured.”

Guillermo del Toro was the first to win the hat-trick with Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Animated Feature

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio won thrice at this year’s Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Animated Feature – making the filmmaker the first to win all three. The adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s novel is also the second-ever stop-motion to win the animated category, with Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit winning in 2005. The Mexican filmmaker is known for The Shape of Water, which won four Oscars in 2018 and was nominated in a whopping thirteen categories. In 2023, on a momentous night for del Toro and his three major accolades, he told audiences in his acceptance speech that “Animation is ready to be taken to the next step. Animation is cinema, animation is not a genre. … Keep animation in the conversation.”

The first crisis team was put into place at the Oscars

After Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage at last year’s Oscars, the organisation had put in place their first-ever crisis team for this year to deal with any unexpected developments at the ceremony. The CEO of the Academy, Bill Kramer, confirmed to Time magazine that this is something the Oscars “never had before”. He added that: “The crisis communication teams and structures we have in place—allow us to say this is the group that we have to gather very quickly. This is how we all come together. This is the spokesperson. This will be the statement. And obviously depending on the specifics of the crisis—and let’s hope something doesn’t happen and we never have to use these, but we already have frameworks in place that we can modify.”

James Martin got the first star-studded Oscars ‘Happy Birthday’ sang to him

The winners of the Best Short Film award this year, An Irish Goodbye, cut their speech short to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to their co-star, James Martin. Embracing Martin, who has Down’s Syndrome, the film directors Tom Berkley and Ross White stated that “this award is actually the second most important thing about today because it’s this man’s birthday. He’s out here in Hollywood, wearing a leopard print suit jacket. We’d love to use the rest of our time up here to sing for James.” The audience joined in, and Martin soaked up his first-ever Oscars birthday song in a room full of Hollywood’s greats. 

WriterElla Chadwick
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