18 Rising Asian American Stars Expanding Representation in Hollywood (and Beyond)

It’s been more than 25 years since Asian Americans have taken center stage in a Hollywood film that was written by, directed by and cast entirely with an eclectic mix of Asian stars, both newcomers and movie legends alike. To put that into perspective, many of the younger Asian American audience members who will excitedly descend upon theaters to watch the Warner Bros. romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians when it opens Aug. 15 weren’t even born when Disney’s The Joy Luck Club, helmed by director Wayne Wang, debuted in 1993. (The film was based on Amy Tan’s novel of the same name, and raked in a respectable $32.9 million at the box office.)

In short, Asian American representation onscreen, onstage and even behind the scenes, in writers’ rooms and in directors’ chairs, has been more than lacking since Hollywood’s inception in 1911. During the 2015 awards season, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign brought much-needed attention to Hollywood’s largely lopsided, white-dominated playing field, but the echoes of that call for diversity have seemingly faded since then. Earlier this year, April Reign, the woman behind the viral hashtag, penned an editorial for Vanity Fair pointing out that “#OscarsSoWhite refers to all marginalized communities and is not about quotas but about asking inclusive questions when staffing films.… It is about operating outside of the same networks that have been used for years and instead providing opportunities to talented craftspeople from groups not usually included.”

Instead, over the past few years, many films based on stories that are largely centered around Asian characters have been whitewashed in casting, much to the chagrin of hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans who rarely ever see a face like theirs onscreen.

However, there have been some positive changes, especially on TV, with the success of Netflix’s Master of None, co-created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang; ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, starring Constance Wu; NBC’s Superstore, featuring a diverse cast of characters including three recurring performers of Asian descent; author Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko being developed into a new Apple series; and Sandra Oh’s historic Emmy nomination for her lead role on BBC America’s Killing Eve. Following the news of becoming the first Asian actress nominated in a leading acting category, Oh said, “I share this moment with my community.”

The release of Crazy Rich Asians is, perhaps, a historic sign of progress for the “movement,” as director Jon M. Chu calls it, toward more inclusive casting and storytelling, fewer stereotypes and tokenism. The film is based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel and follows the story of Rachel Chu (Wu), an economics professor who agrees to accompany her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. When she learns that he’s the heir apparent to one of the biggest fortunes in the world, however, she’s forced to come to terms with her own identity as an Asian American woman, removed from the fanfare of tradition and crazy rich wealth.

Ahead of the film’s release, Wu shared a heartfelt note with her fans via Twitter about the significance of Crazy Rich Asians, and how its manifestation is just the beginning. “My friend Ava DuVernay says, ‘I work in an industry that really has no regard for my voice and the voice of people like me and so, what do I do? Keep knocking on that door or build your own house?’” she wrote. “My dear Asian American friends, we are building our own damn houses. We got the tools, the ability and we definitely got the style. Just because others don’t see it, doesn’t mean we don’t have it. We do. I’ve seen it.”

ALSO READ   TV personality known for playing Bozo the Clown dies at 89

Here, we’ve rounded up Asian American stars who are doing just that — building their own damn houses — for their current community and for generations yet to come.


1. Alan Yang, Writer/Creator

Alan Yang

Getty Images

Yang’s burgeoning writing career began way back in college, when he was juggling biology courses at Harvard with writing for the university’s humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon. Since then, he’s co-created a hit Netflix series, the Emmy Award-winning Master of None, and is poised for more indie acclaim as co-creator of the dark comedy series Forever, starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, premiering on Amazon Sept. 14. Oh, and he made JAY-Z cry after directing the Friends parody music video for the rapper’s song “Moonlight.”


2. Ali Wong, Writer/Comedian

Ali Wong

Getty Images

Wong’s first and second times were both a charm. Her Netflix stand-up specials Baby Cobra (2016) and Hard Knock Wife (2018) catapulted her into an echelon of success most comedians only dream of: New York Times profiles, chats with Ellen and writing and starring in the Netflix original film Always Be My Maybe. (Also starring Randall Park, the film is slated to premiere in 2019.) And somehow amid all that, she also wrote episodes for Fresh Off the Boat.


3. Awkwafina, Rapper/Actress


Leave a Reply