HomeAsian Americans10 Movie & TV Roles that Broke the Stereotypes in Recent Years

10 Movie & TV Roles that Broke the Stereotypes in Recent Years

By Sophia Whittemore
AsAmNews Staff Writer

Minority roles often get shoved to the margins as sidekicks or, goodness forbid, comic relief. Indiana Jones or Sixteen Candles, anyone? And how many words did Katana speak in Suicide Squad, ten?

Or, as in the case of Ghost in the ShellAloha, or Doctor Strange, Asian Americans are just straight-up erased.

Let’s reflect on these ten recent roles that took the typical Asian/Pacific Islander actor stereotypes and smashed them through the fourth wall.

    1. Daniel Wu as Lu Ren, a Recovering Alcoholic Badass in Tomb Raider
      Photo by Gravesv38 (via Wikimedia Commons)
      • Daniel Wu plays a drunken boat captain who partners up with the female action hero to save the world. Asian male actors hardly ever get to star as the Han Solo mercenary type. But gruff, rough-around-the-edges, and all-around fighting badass sums up Wu’s character Lu Ren.


    2. Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
      • Keeping with the rebooted franchise’s theme that you don’t have to come from greatness to be a hero, Rose Tico is just a maintenance worker. Sure, she’s a part of the Resistance, but she really gets to shine when she goes on a mission to find the codebreaker with fellow Resistance fighter Finn. And, finally, Rose even fights in the final battle of the movie, ultimately saving Finn’s life. “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”


    3. Donnie Yen as Chirrut in Rogue One
      Photo by May S. Young (via Flickr Creative Commons)
      • In a movie where all the Jedi are supposedly dead, Donnie Yen’s character is the closest thing to a Jedi that could exist. And he fights blind, but doesn’t let anything get in his way. His line—”I am one with the Force and the Force is with me”—is quite possibly the one line that stuck with me the entire movie. You thought Jedis could only be white? THINK. AGAIN.


    4. Teen Angst Love Interest Hayden Szeto as Erwin Kim in The Edge of Seventeen (take that, Sixteen Candles!)

      • The Asian male love interest gets the girl in an angsty high school rom-com all about growing up and existential, pre-adult-life crises. His character Erwin Kim is a multidimensional, fleshed-out teenage boy, who, yes, even has to fight stereotypes about being Asian American, and confronts those head-on with a stellar acting performance.


    5. Kumail Nanjiani as himself in The Big Sick
      Photo by Gage Skidmore (via Wikimedia Commons)
      • Spoiler alert: HE GETS THE GIRL. The Big Sick is a fictional recreation of Kumail meeting his wife, fellow screenwriter Emily Gordon. His role was so nuanced, and the movie overall was so amazing, rightfully being nominated for the Academy Awards. During a montage, Nanjiani tackled the issue of representation by saying, “Some of my favorite movies are by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. And now straight white dudes can watch movies about dudes like me, and you relate. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it all my life.”


    6. Steven Yeun as Derek Cho in Mayhem and as Glenn Rhee in The Walking Dead
      Photo by Gage Skidmore (via Wikimedia Commons)


    7. Taika Waititi honored indigenous ancestry as Korg in Thor: Ragnarok
      Taika Waititi (36201776766).jpg
      Photo by Gage Skidmore (via Wikimedia Commons)
      • He played Korg. But he also filled roles with aboriginal peoples, and paid homage to the indigenous cultures of the movie’s filming locations/some of the in-movie scenery. Read more on that here.


    8. Auliʻi Cravalho upgrades the Disney Princess, voicing Moana in Moana
      • Again, a breakthrough into mainstream culture, Moana wasn’t just your average princess. She was a voyager, embarking on an epic adventure inspired by Polynesian culture, and she learned to lead her people in the process of discovering herself.


    9. Dwayne the Rock Johnson in multiple roles
      Photo by Eva Rinaldi (via Flickr Creative Commons)
      • I don’t even have to explain. I’ll just list some of his titles when it comes to lead action star: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rampage, Baywatch, Hercules, The Fast and the Furious franchise, San Andreas, Central Intelligence, and the list goes on.


  1. Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and as DC’s Aquaman
    Photo by Gage Skidmore (via Wikimedia Commons)
    • The Hawaii-Native actor’s memorable slate includes Game of Thrones Dothraki leader Khal Drogo, and more recently Aquaman in the DC universe. In the time of Black Panther and Wonder Woman, representation is looking up for superheroes. Now, we just need to get representation for all other facets of life.



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  1. RE: 10 Movie and TV Roles that Broke the Stereotypes in Recent Years: I would also name Chloe Bennet as Quake and Ming Na Wen in SHIELD on tv


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