By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
A recent study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Hollywood are hardly represented in the film industry. This is why the movement for better representation and visibility is extremely important in showing the diversity in characters, stories and talent from the AAPI community.
For AAPI Heritage Month this year, we highlight 5 AAPIs who have shone, broken down barriers and shattered old tired stereotypes in Hollywood, paving the way for better representation and visibility.
LEE ISAAC CHUNG
Minari is hands down one of this year’s standout films. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the film garnered critical acclaim and awards. The film was based on the life of Chung, who spent his childhood on a farm in Arkansas living the traditions brought over by his South Korean immigrant parents.
The film also collected many firsts: Yuh-Jung Yung, who played the grandmother in the film, was the first Korean actor to win an Academy Award, and Steven Yeun, who plays the main character, Jacob, was the first Asian American to be nominated in the Best Actor category for the Academy Awards.
If you’re looking for inspiration from the lockdown, check out the body of Kumail Nanjiani. Nanjiani became a bulging muscles man, and has maintained his fit and well-sculpted body through the last year.
In addition, beyond his looks and awesome muscly biceps, Nanjiani has been extremely busy over the past few years. His career kicked off with his role on the TV comedy series Silicon Valley from 2014 to 2019. He then became a household name when he played the romantic lead in the film The Big Sick, where he also wrote. This year he worked on film The Eternals, and it has just been announced that he will play Indian American entrepreneur Somen “Steve” Banerjee, who started the stripper troupe Chippendales.
KELLY MARIE TRAN
Kelly Marie Tran voiced Raya in Walt Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. But she first came on the radar as the badass rebel mechanic Rose Tico”on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As Rose Tico, Tran became the first Asian American woman to land a major role in a Star Wars film, and from there started a trend where other Asian American women wanted to be her and cosplay as her.
But because of her high profile role, Tran has been the recipient of extreme attacks and threats over social media. She was attacked for being for her gender, race and weight. Tran rose above this, and used it to speak out about racism and about the issue of body shaming, winning the hearts and minds of many.
Nora Lum, a.k.a. Awkwafina, is proud to bean Asian American woman from Queens. While she already had a flourishing music and comedy career, she broke out in 2018 in Crazy Rich Asians. Playing the role of Goh Peik Lin, she made the audience laugh as the cringey, yet hilarious sidekick of female lead Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu. Awkwafina also worked on the Ocean’s 8 reboot, and in 2019 played Billi Wang in the critically acclaimed film The Farewell by Lulu Wang.
Awkwafina’s career has kicked into high gear with her own sitcom Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, and as the voice of Sisu in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. You will also see her in the upcoming Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, in which she stars alongside Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi.
DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON
Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock,” is definitely someone who does not need an introduction. Usually the brave hero who saves the day, with the muscles and looks to match, he’s famous for his roles in huge franchises such as The Fast and the Furious and the remake of Jumanji. He also voiced Maui”in Disney’s Moana, and stars in an NBC series based on himself called Young Rock.
Some may also remember Johnson from his earlier days, when he was a successful WWE pro wrestler. Johnson frequently posts videos of himself on Instagram, where he fondly shares about his life, family and Samoan heritage.
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