Asian actors in the US are getting more exposure

  • TV
  • Tuesday, 02 May 2017

Gemma Chan in Humans

Despite recent whitewashing and white saviour controversies surrounding the movie Ghost In The Shell and the Netflix TV series Iron Fist, it is encouraging to see more Asian actors cast in mainstream American projects.

What is even better, they are not playing the stereotypical geeky Asian either – they are portraying sexy romantic heroes, roles which in the past have traditionally gone to Caucasian actors.

In the case of Netflix TV series Master Of None, Indian actor Aziz Ansari is not just the star of the show, but also a co-creator and writer.

Arden Cho

See her in: Teen Wolf (2014-2016)

The Korean-American Cho won over ardent fans of teen fantasy drama Teen Wolf as soon as she joined the show in its third season.

In the series, she plays high-school student Kira, who has the ability to absorb electricity into her body. She also gets involved in a romantic relationship with leading man Scott (played by Tyler Posey).

Arden Cho in Teen Wolf

Fearless and a skilled fighter, her character was embraced by young TV viewers as a role model for women and also minorities.

Fans were shocked and upset when Cho, 31, announced in an emotional YouTube video her exit from the series last year, due to the fact that the show has “wrapped up with Kira’s storyline”.

Since then, the actress, who is single, has found other acting commitments, appearing in shows such as Tween Fest (2016).

Coming up, she will be seen in the movies Stuck, a musical, and Flexx, an action flick.

Nico Santos

See him in: Superstore (2015-present)

In the sitcom Superstore, which revolves around the lives of employees at a hypermarket, Filipino-American actor Santos regularly steals the show as the ambitious staff member Mateo.

The actor, who was born in the Philippines but emigrated to the US in his teens, is proud to be able to give minority groups a voice by playing this character.

The 24-year-old actor said in an interview with American telco Comcast last year: “Filipinos are the second-largest Asian minority in the US and we’re hardly represented in the media and I’m happy I can share a part of my culture.”

Nico Santos in Superstore.

Ross Butler

See him in: Riverdale (2017), 13 Reasons Why (2017)

Ross Butler as Reggie Mantle in Riverdale.

In the popular long-running Archie comics, the character of smug rich boy Reggie is Caucasian, so viewers were surprised when Riverdale, the new TV adapation of the comics, cast Butler, who is ethnically Chinese, in the role.

In an interview with Variety recently, the 26-year-old actor admits how groundbreaking that decision was.

“Reggie was important to me because he isn’t seen as an Asian character... he’s just known as one of the guys, and in a comic that was based on American culture.

“The show is no different. I’m not the Asian kid of Riverdale. I’m Reggie and I just happen to be Chinese.”

Even though his character is a bit of a jerk, viewers have taken to him, given his good looks and convincing bad boy charm.

He plays a similarly self-satisfied jock in Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of Jay Asher’s best-selling book. If Butler is not careful, he may soon be typecast.

Gemma Chan

See her in: Humans (2015-present)

Chan, 34, has signed on to several major projects in recent years.

On TV, the British-Chinese model-turned-actress has been praised for her work in the sci-fi series Humans, in which she plays a Synth, or robot. The show has been renewed for a third season.

On the film front, she showed up in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016), playing a delegate to the magic world’s version of the United Nations. She will also have a mysterious but key part in the upcoming Transformers: The Last Knight.

Most recently, she was confirmed to join the likes of Constance Wu and Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh in the film adaptation of Singapore-born writer Kevin Kwan’s book Crazy Rich Asians. In the movie, she will portray the “goddess”, fashion icon and chic socialite Astrid.

Chan has been dating British comedian Jack Whitehall for six years.

Vincent Rodriguez III

Vincent Rodriguez III

See him in: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-present)

This 34-year-old Filipino actor has had stage experience with small roles in productions such as Disney’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame in 2014.

His big break came when he played Josh Chan on the musical comedy TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

In the show, the hunky star is the object of lead character Rebecca’s (Rachel Bloom) affections.

In fact, she is so in love with him that she ditches her cushy life in New York City to move to the Californian suburb of West Covina so that she can be near him.

Almost the entire first season of the show is dedicated to Rebecca trying to win him over, including impressing his large Filipino-American family during Thanksgiving.

Aziz Ansari in Master Of None.

Aziz Ansari

See him in: Parks And Recreation (2009-2015), Master Of None (2015-present)

The American comedian and actor, whose parents hail from India, made TV audiences laugh in the cult comedy series Parks And Recreation as the sarcastic government official Tom Haverford. But it is in Netflix’s Master Of None that he really gets to show off his comedic prowess. Aziz, 34, plays a struggling actor in the show.

As the co-creator, writer and star of the critically acclaimed series, Aziz sheds light on the challenges that plague Asian-American actors such as himself. He also addresses the issue of interracial dating on the show, through relationships with white women played by actresses Noel Wells and Claire Danes.

Last year, the show picked up a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Comedy Series. The second season of Master Of None premieres on Netflix on May 12.

He is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book Modern Romance (2015), which examines love and dating.

Lee Ki Hong in maze Runner.

Lee Ki Hong

See him in: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015-present)

The Korean-American became an instant heart-throb when he played the cool and athletic Minho in The Maze Runner (2014).

Lee, 30, is filming the third instalment of the series, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, due for release next year.

On TV, he captivated viewers in the role of sweet Vietnamese immigrant Dong in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The character is awkward and a lot less slick compared with Minho.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returns for a third season on May 19.

Outside of these mainstream projects, Lee is also a frequent collaborator with Asian-American filmmaking group Wong Fu Productions. He starred in several of its web videos and its first feature film Everything Before Us (2015).

He has a fervent teen girl fanbase despite being married to his long-time girlfriend Choi Ha Young two years ago. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Yip Wai Yee

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