Despite many challenges throughout the years, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have proven to be powerhouses.
So I want to take a moment to celebrate the trials and tribulations of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. They have for so long been either unnoticed or taken for granted.
This article will cover Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in Hollywood — not in any particular order — who have not only produced amazing works but have also effected drastic changes in the once overwhelmingly white American film industry.
1. Taika Waititi
Of half-Māori descent, Waititi has busted New Zealand box-office records with films such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows. However, you may know him best from his Hollywood directorial debut, Thor: Ragnarok, which has hilarious Kiwi references (and also killed it at the box office).
2. Lucy Liu
With a Hollywood career spanning more than 20 years, Liu can be considered one of the most prominent Asian-American actresses today. She has had a variety of starring roles from Charlie’s Angels to her current project, Elementary. Liu is also a philanthropist and a strong LGBTQ supporter.
3. M. Night Shyamalan
Shyamalan is Indian-American and the director and creator of many beloved and critically acclaimed films, from The Sixth Sense to Split. Shyamalan is known for his thrillers tinged with supernatural elements and shocking twists.
4. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Johnson is half-Samoan — and so are his muscles. He is known for his bold, action-packed movies: San Andreas, Jumanji and his newest project, Rampage. Johnson also has a nonprofit organization, the Dwayne Johnson ROCK Foundation, that aids sick and hospitalized children.
5. John Cho
Cho gained international recognition as Hikaru Sulu in the reboot of the Star Trek movie series. He has also starred in many Asian-centric films, such as Better Luck Tomorrow. Cho has called out whitewashing and stereotyping of Asian-Americans in Hollywood.
6. Keanu Reeves
Perhaps best known for The Matrix, Reeves is of part Hawaiian and Chinese descent. He has starred in various roles, playing American and Chinese characters, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Reeves is an avid philanthropist for cancer charities as well.
7. Mindy Kaling
One of the most prominent Indian-American celebrities, Kaling is an actress, a comedian and a producer. She created and starred in the popular show The Mindy Project and is a co-creator and recurring character on NBC’s Champions. Her personal experiences as an Indian-American directly impact much of her art.
8. Auli’i Cravalho
Known as the titular Polynesian character from Moana, Cravalho is of both Hawaiian and Asian descent. With the widely acclaimed animated film, Cravalho helped provide a voice to all the Pacific Islander girls in the world. She currently stars in NBC’s Rise.
9. Ang Lee
Born in Taiwan, Lee moved to America in 1979. Directing and creating multiple box-office hits, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Life of Pi, Lee is one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers in Hollywood. His films challenge social/racial issues and push cultural barriers.
10. Constance Wu
Wu has won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Jessica in the hit sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat. She will star as Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians, the first major Hollywood film with a primarily Asian cast in 25 years. Because of her success, the hashtag #StarringConstanceWu highlights the scarcity of Asian-Americans in lead roles.
11. Justin Lin
One of the most well-known Asian-American directors today, Lin has directed part of the Fast & Furious franchise and Star Trek Beyond. Lin has created an Asian-American blog: YOMYOMF (“You Offend Me, You Offend My Family”), which is now a YouTube channel.
12. Jason Momoa
Momoa was born in Hawaii and is native Hawaiian on his father’s side. He is best known for playing Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and Aquaman in the DC Comics universe. He regularly pays homage to his homeland and culture of Hawaii.
By no means is this list complete. There are so many other Asian-American and Pacific Islanders who are continually making splashes in Hollywood. Here are a just a handful of honorable mentions: Sandra Oh, Daniel Dae Kim, Joan Chen and Maggie Q.