By Ed Diokno
Views from the Edge
Three cheers for Vanessa Hudgens!
The actress starring on NBC’s Powerless made her character half-Filipino!
I’m pretty sure that when the concept for Powerless was first thought up and they wrote for the lead character, Emily Locke, they weren’t writing for a person of mixed race, much less a Filipino American. I searched for the DC backstory of Emily and couldn’t find any reference to her ethnicity.
When Hudgens was cast in that role, it would have been easy to stay silent and let the writers fill out her character. I’m almost certain that she must have said something to the creative team behind Powerless about being Filipino American to help flesh out her character’s back story.
This is the first role the California-raised actress has played in which her character reflects her real-life heritage.
Powerless is a sitcom about an insurance company that cleans up after the havoc and destruction created by various super heroes.
You can count on one hand the TV roles that are identified Filipino American:
Josh Chan of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend played by Vincent Rodriguez III. This role opened the door for an entire Filipino American family to be introduced – a television first.
Sgt. Wu of Grimm played by Reggie Lee. Not much is known about Wu’s character outside of his life chasing Vessens, but in one episode, he talked about his grandmother scaring him with tales of the mythical Aswan, a Filipino monster that eats children.
Mateo of Superstore played by Nico Santos. Originally the character was supposed to be Latino and straight, but once Santos got the role, he was able to tailor the back story to mirror his own.
And … uh, that’s it!
There are another handful of Filipino American actors on television, but their ethnic background has never been explored or deliberately kept mysterious or, in the case of those appearing in space sagas, are from some other planet.
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Watch the video. It’s just a snippet and her line, “I’m half Filipino,” is passed over so quickly you might miss it. What’s wonderful is that it was in the context of the episode’s plot, the revelation was no big deal. There was no music swelling, dramatic drumbeat to emphasize or knowing looks to mark, what in some states, is a common, everyday moment.
When someone like Hudgens — with her star power growing with each role that she undertakes — uses her influence to define her ethnicity rather than play a White or Latina woman, it’s a big deal at so many levels; from the youngster looking for role models, students struggling with their identity to those Americans whose definition of what an American looks like is limited to being White.
Well done, Miss Hudgens. Salamat!
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