‘This Is the American Dream’

Ke Huy Quan’s and Jamie Lee Curtis’s affecting Oscars speeches underscored just how much each actor deserved a happy ending.

Ke Huy Quan holding an Oscar and giving his acceptance speech
Kevin Winter / Getty

The Oscars have a lot to navigate this year, between their ongoing struggles to increase diversity and atone for last year’s most shocking moment. But the 95th ceremony began with two powerful wins, which in turn delivered two powerful speeches. Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis—both nominated for the first time—won Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for their work in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Quan and Curtis arrived at their storied moments from two strikingly different paths: Quan as a refugee and Curtis as the daughter of Hollywood legends Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. Both started acting decades ago. But whereas Curtis has continued to occupy the limelight since her early success in horror films such as Halloween and Prom Night, Quan struggled to find consistent work after appearing in the classic ’80s films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. In recent years, he’s largely fallen into the shadows. Yet both actors eventually ended up in a beloved indie film that spotlighted their talents more fully. Their individual stories and their affecting speeches tonight underscored just how much each deserved their happy ending.

Quan took the stage to a standing ovation, overcome with emotion. Once he had gathered himself, he addressed his mother. “My mom is 84 years old, and she’s at home watching,” Quan said in between snuffles. “Mom! I just won an Oscar.” He then spoke honestly but encouragingly about the difficulties he’d experienced as an immigrant. “I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage,” he said, his voice growing more insistent. “This is the American dream.” Only the second Asian performer to win for Best Supporting Actor, Quan seems at odds with the types the Academy commonly likes to celebrate: illustrious celebrities and relative newcomers. He represents a third possibility, one that comes as the result of getting another chance.

Curtis represents a different underdog story. She often found herself cast in genre films, in between a range of hits in the ’90s and the aughts such as My Girl, True Lies, and the Freaky Friday reboot. She too might have faded into the background. But winning an Oscar tonight speaks to a different kind of achievement and signals an even wider acceptance of her work.

Curtis’s speech acknowledged as much. She recognized everyone who had contributed to her journey, including Everything’s cast and crew, her management team, her family, and the fans (“the thousands and hundreds of thousands of people”) who’d supported her genre movies. After identifying each group, she declared, “We just won an Oscar!” Her sweet speech took a weightier turn when Curtis paid tribute to her deceased parents, noting that neither had won despite being nominated in different categories. Her voice broke recounting the fact. But she got the last hurrah, telling the audience: “I just won an Oscar.”