Cover Cheyenne Tan, Sami Khan, Bruce Franks Jr, Smriti Mundra and Poh Si Teng (Photo: @pohsi / Twitter)

From a Cannes Lion Award to the Nobel Prize-equivalent for cancer research, these are the women from Malaysia who have made an impression on the international stage

Prof Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, Scientist

This Cambridge-based scientist received the Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Prize 2019 (widely considered the Nobel Prize for cancer research) for her medical discovery in cancer genomics and described her work as, “A new discovery every day. Sometimes about science, sometimes about people, sometimes about myself." 

In a recent interview with Tatler Malaysia, Serena explained: “The human genome changes a lot. The mutations that we see can tell us something about why a tumour develops. Our research approach gives us the complete picture. It’s like having a very clear map of a cancer to streamline directions to more effective treatments.”

Related: Award-Winning Malaysian Scientist Dr Serena Nik-Zainal Speaks Up About Breaking The Glass Ceiling

Hanna Alkaf, Author

The former journalist's first YA novel, The Weight of Our Sky, was published in 2019 by the New York-based Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Despite it being targeted to young adults, the book deals with some heavy stuff, not the least of which the May 13, 1969 riot, one of the darkest days in the nation's history. 

"I like to be honest when it comes to writing Malaysian stories that prominently feature our culture, mannerisms and folklore," said Hanna. It struck a chord with an international audience, culminating in a win in the Young Adult/High School Literature category at the US-based Freeman Book Awards earlier this year. 


Nadiah Hamzah, Film Director

"When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. I saw filmmaking as a progression from my interest in storytelling," said Nadiah, who released her first movie, Motif, in 2019. Soon after, The Hollywood Reporter hailed her as one of the filmmakers to watch.

Nadiah actually came into prominence earlier with her anti-bullying video campaign that she shot for Leo Burnett Malaysia. "It was a series of videos shot using an iPhone and co-directed with Syed Madnuh and Emir Ezwan," she said. "The videos sent a strong message against bullying."

The jury at Cannes Lion Awards 2019 obviously thought so too, and awarded the three directors with the bronze medal. 

ICYMI: 10 Creative Malaysians & Why The World Loves Them

Zen Cho, Author

This Crawford Award-winning fantasy writer was also awarded the prestigious Hugo Awards in 2019 for her sci-fi novelette, If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. Now residing in the UK, the 34-year-old is focusing on her next book project after the success of her two historical fantasy novels, Sorcerer to the Crown and The True Queen

See also: 8 Outstanding Malaysians Who Received International Honours, And Why They Matter

Notable mention:

Film producers Poh Si Teng and Cheyenne Tan made headlines in January this year when their documentary St. Louis Superman about activist and rapper Bruce Franks Jr became an Oscar contender. Although they didn't win Best Documentary Short Subject at the 92nd Academy Awards, the documentary had already earned them a slew of accolades including Best Short Documentary at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the Audience Award at AFI Docs Festival.

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