Michelle Yeoh honoured as pioneer by Biden with Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Joe Biden awards the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Michelle Yeoh during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Washington. -AP

PETALING JAYA: Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Joe Biden for being the first Asian to win an Oscar as Best Actress in 2023.

In presenting her with the medal on Friday (May 3), Biden said that for decades Yeoh has "shattered stereotypes and glass ceilings to enrich and enhance American culture."

"Her roles transcend gender, cultures, and languages. From martial arts, to romantic comedies, to science fiction, to show us what we all have in common.

As the first Asian actor to win an Oscar as Best Actress, she bridges cultures to not only to entertain, but also inspire and open hearts and that’s what she keeps doing. Congratulations," he said.

With this, Yeoh - who received the medal along with 18 others - has joined the ranks of those who have been given America’s highest civilian award.

In March 2023, Yeoh made history as the first Asian and Malaysian to win an Oscar for her role in the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Prior to this, the White House had said in its introduction of Yeoh at the ceremony that her efforts to advance gender equality, conservation issues, and global health have been felt around the world.

"Equal parts performer and pioneer, Michelle Yeoh continues to enrich American culture and inspires us to believe in possibilities on the big screen and beyond,” it said.

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, Yeoh, who was the first Asian to win an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2023, was on the recipient list that gave special recognition to “firsts” in their fields.

This includes Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, and Jim Thorpe, the versatile athlete who became the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal in 1912.

Other recipients included former US senator Elizabeth Dole, former vice-president Al Gore, one-time secretary of state John Kerry, and the previous New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to both civilians and military personnel and is not limited to US citizens.

In an executive order establishing it in 1963, then US President John F. Kennedy said the medal would be bestowed by decision of the US president, and that it was to recognise people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours”.

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