• 2023
  • Malaysia’s Cultural Diversity Is Inherently Worthy Of An Oscar Too!

Malaysia’s Cultural Diversity Is Inherently Worthy Of An Oscar Too!

Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - Bacalah Malaysia
April 20, 2023 


Latest Oscar winner, Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh, who admitted that cultural diversity of Malaysia has helped shape her into who she is today cannot come at a better time. 


As the country is preparing to welcome one its most hectic multicultural festivities – the Hari Raya Aidil Fitri or Hari Raya Puasa, coming just after a month-long of fasting in Ramadan, it speaks volume. 

Reportedly, she reckons the beauty and diversity of Malaysia has played an important role in shaping who she is today, a multiple-award winner, despite living abroad and criss-crossing other countries throughout her acting career. Malaysia remains in her heart. 

After making it to the hall of fame in the 1990s, Michelle starred in the 007 James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997 and gained wider international recognition, giving a surreal meaning to the movie title. 


Later, in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons,” she earned the 54th British Film Arts Festival 2000 nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. This led to the 2022 95th Academy Award for Best Actress in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” catapulting her as the first Asian to win the award, and the first Malaysian to do so in any category.

For the same, she also won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award. Earlier, on December 9, 2022, Michelle received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

A truly difficult act to follow exhibiting grace, grit and grandeur at the same time. Yet, Michelle glowingly attributed this to the beauty of Malaysia as a multi-racial country that many of us took for granted, especially of late. Sometimes behaving quite the opposite, hardly appreciating it at all. 

On her recent trip home, after winning the Oscars, the new famous Ipoh “mali” celebrity was quoted as saying: “We have learnt to live and embrace each other’s culture and I think that has fundamentally made me such an international person.” She was able to see people as equals and learn from them, being brought up in such an environment made her much more open, giving and accepting. 

“In Malaysia, we learnt how to learn from our Malay, Indian and Chinese friends.” Adding, that is what we should all do for each other, to accept what we are. To be different, and it is the difference that makes us so complex, vibrant and dynamic. 

I grew up in a very rich environment from nature to people and to understand diversity,” she said, recalling the beauty of her hometown, saying that she was brought up in a beautiful environment surrounded by rivers, mountains and nature. 

This resonates well with her other notable work includes serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme since 2016, championing an end to poverty and promoting environmental sustainability.

Michelle is also an active supporter of numerous charitable and humanitarian causes worldwide, including poverty reduction, environmental protection, gender equity, and global health. And in 2009, she collaborated with National Geographic to produce “Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh,” which brought attention to the work and advocacy of an orangutan rehabilitation centre in Malaysia.

Named Time Magazine’s 2022 “Icon of the Year,” she is the vice-president of the board of the Suu Foundation, which promotes education, human rights, and health in Myanmar.

Michelle is passionate on ecological issues and helps to shed light on the ecological impact of the clothing manufacturing industry and promote sustainable fashion. She is also an ambassador of amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), and has long promoted better road safety through the Make Roads Safe campaign. 


Long before that in 1983, Michelle had already represented Malaysia when she became the Miss Malaysia World contest, and moved on to the Miss World pageant in London, where she placed eighteenth. Later that year, she won the Miss Moomba International 1984 pageant in Australia. 

On the more academic side of things, in August 2022, she received an honorary doctorate of fine arts degree from the American Film Institute for her contributions of distinction to the art of the moving image. She became the first Asian artist to receive the honour. 

And fresh from her recent win at the Oscars, Michelle will add another feather to her cap by serving as the Harvard Law School’s 2023 Class Day keynote speaker, according to the latest Harvard’s Crimson. This is set to take place on May 24, a day before the commencement, adding more meaning to her success story as her father was a lawyer-cum-politician in Malaysia then.

Michelle remarked: “It is a tremendous honour to speak at Harvard Law School’s 2023 Class Day.” 

In all, Michelle has covered the major facets of life throughout her 60-year old journey as a truly successful Malaysian in multiple fields of endeavours. Her home-coming almost immediately upon winning the coveted Oscar, sums up the lesson that she has for us, whether at home or abroad, namely Malaysia’s cultural diversity is a strength to be reckoned with that must be put to good use, from day one, in shaping the Malaysia that we want. 

Here Michelle stood as the icon for all Malaysians to see and be proud of as the ambassador of cultural diversity that she represents to the world.

Congratulations, Michelle, for all the achievements and for staying close to Malaysia in your heart of hearts for all to resonate with. 

Hope you continue to enjoy the Hari Raya this time around in the true spirit of multicultural understanding and peace for all humanity.

  • The writer is the Rector, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)