Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Former Bond girl

Actress Michelle Yeoh has been denied entry to Burma, also called Myanmar, and the speculation is that this has something to do with the fact that she is playing the part of Aung San Suu Kyi in a biopic called The Lady. Although this is probably not, on reflection, all that surprising, it is significant enough to be a news story: the shiny new, all-democratic civilian Burmese government, like the pigs at the end of Orwell’s Animal Farm, don’t look all that different from the old dictatorship.

Consequently, this has been widely reported, and for a while “Michelle Yeoh” trended on Twitter. But with a certain weary inevitability, many, if not most, reports of this event refer to her as “former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh”.

I suppose it could have been worse; she could have been remembered chiefly for the instantly forgettable The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. But still, I can’t help feeling that this is a bit rough on an actress who won a BAFTA for Best Actress in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, an achievement all the more remarkable when you consider that she doesn’t speak Chinese and had to learn her lines phonetically.

Of course, I realise I sound as if I’m denigrating the rôle of Bond girl, but it still somehow jars. We’re talking about an actress selected to play Aung San Suu Kyi, and it might for that reason be more apposite to mention in this context Crouching Tiger..., or indeed Memoirs of a Geisha, another film she had a prominent rôle in, and which won a modest sprinkling of Oscars and BAFTAs.

The only real reason for referencing her Bond past is so that we will all go, “Oh, that Michelle Yeoh!” But does that really add anything to our understanding of the story? Does it matter if we don’t actually recognise the name, or even if we have no idea of any of the films she’s starred in? A prominent actress cast in the rôle of Dr Suu Kyi, and who has met her frequently in the past, is denied entry to Burma. That’s the story, and reducing the prominent actress to a particularly feisty sidekick in a piece of light entertainment is a bit... unfair.

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