The representation of Asian Americans in popular media has only been getting better with this generation of movers and shakers in Hollywood. After an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences for the world premiere of Crazy Rich Asians, more and more creators have been looking for ways to focus the spotlight on Asian communities in pop culture.
Even Filipino artists with talent and charisma in the showbiz industry have been finding themselves getting more roles then ever. Hawaii native Jacob Batalon, whose parents are Filipino, recently made news as one of the few Filipino actors to appear in a Marvel film. Jacob Batalon starred in both Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) as Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s best friend.
Even before the premiere of the Spider-Man movie series, Filipino actors, musicians, entertainers, and the like have been working hard in Hollywood, building their craft and make a name for themselves. Here are 10 other Filipino celebrities who’ve made it in the United States.
Way back in the late 90’s, the live-action Cinderella film challenged social norms and empowered audiences. Featuring actress and singer Brandy as the first ever black Cinderella, as well as a racially diverse cast, the movie was a commercial success. Prince Charming was played by Paolo Montalban, a Filipino actor. Being one of the very first Asian leading actors in a film, he challenged the stereotypical roles that had been given to Filipino-American actors in Hollywood. Since then, Paolo Montalban has been in a wide variety of roles onstage, in both Broadway and off-Broadway theater productions.
Renowned slam poet and artist Regie Cabico might not be quite as popular in mainstream media as other artists, but he has made a name for himself in the circles of poetry, writing, and art. Most of his work is heartfelt, tackling the struggles of being queer and growing up in a conservative Filipino-American household in Maryland, where the majority of his peers were white. He used creative outlets as mediums of self-expression, venturing into theater and acting, which led to an acting degree from the esteemed New York University. He then discovered other methods of performance, stumbling upon poetry slams, which would later become his chosen craft.
Cabico won the 1993, 1994, and 1997 National Poetry Slam awards and the 1993 Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam, and has been acknowledged by numerous American and international institutions. Since then, he has explored other performance mediums such as experimental theater and solo plays, winning the 2006 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Best Performance Art Production. Currently, he is a teaching artist at The Kennedy Center and has received several fellowships for his work. He is perhaps the most decorated Filipino-American slam poet and writer so far. He has been published in countless published journals, anthologies, and has edited several poetry collections.
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle was made famous by her various roles in television for Disney Channel productions, including the series Hannah Montana and films Camp Rock and Fame. She grew up in California in a family already rooted in the entertainment industry, with her father being a former TV personality, her aunt being a former child actor, and her grandmother being the “Reyna ng Kundiman” of the 1960’s, Sylvia La Torre. After Anna Maria Perez de Tagle’s breakthrough with Disney Channel, she ventured into musical theater, starring in several regional productions of popular stage musicals. She is most known for her role in the Broadway musical production Godspell, which won her the title of Best Featured Actress in a Musical in the 100th Annual BroadwayWorld Awards of 2012.
Born and raised in Manila, Geena Rocero moved to New York when she was 17 in the hopes of furthering her modeling career. She’s accomplished tons since then, coming out as a transwoman in her TEDTalk in 2014, and shedding light on the issues and struggles trans people of color face in America. Apart from being the very first trans Asia-Pacific Islander Playmate in Playboy, Geena Rocero has also worked with plenty of fashion and beauty companies. She’s currently signed under the company Next Models and has achieved supermodel status. She presented at the first ever High Level United Nations Meeting on Trans and Gender Diversity, talking about her advocacy for the rights of transgender individuals across the globe.
Even before the world saw him in Crazy Rich Asians, Nico Santos had already been working as a comedian and an actor with years of experience under his belt. After eight years of working in retail in several high-end department stores in San Francisco, Nico Santos began performing as a stand-up act in San Francisco. After a while he moved to Los Angeles, and it was there where he made the shift from stand-up comedy to acting on television. An article by Bustle reports that Nico Santos is determined to represent the Filipino gay minority in the United States, as there’s a lack of representation in mainstream television.
Joshua dela Cruz
Filipino-American Broadway actor Joshua dela Cruz has had experience on the stage for a while, but recently shifted into television after he was cast as the new host of the famous children’s show Blue’s Clues. With Ilocano and Bicolano roots, Joshua dela Cruz grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, and studied Musical Theater in Montclair State University. Soon after earning his degree, he landed the roles of understudy and ensemble cast member in Aladdin, later on playing the lead role in the musical in 2017.
Jon Jon Briones
Jon Jon Briones is most known on Broadway for his role as The Engineer in famous musical Miss Saigon — after all, it was that same role that got him to win the 2015 Laurence Olivier Best Actor in a Musical. He is also known for his recent role as Modesto “Pete” Cunanan, the father of serial killer Andrew Cunanan, in the FX-produced television series American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Currently, Jon Jon Briones is based in Los Angeles with his wife Megan and his two children, who are also budding actors.
Although Dante Basco calls himself a “California kid”, he grew up surrounded by Filipino family and friends in the tight-knit Filipino communities in the San Francisco Bay area. He had initially started in the entertainment industry when he discovered his talent for dancing hip-hop at a young age and joined the San Francisco Ballet Company. He later appeared in TV shows before landing the role of dancer Miguel Ramos in the 2006 film Take the Lead, which starred Antonio Banderas. One of the very first Filipino-American actors who made it in Hollywood, he has over 30 years of experience on his hands, which helps him pursue other creative roles in the industry. Apart from being the voice actor of Zuko in the popular animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, Dante Basco flexed his directorial muscles in his new 2019 film, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers.
Rapper Bambu de Pistola, one of the most well-respected indie musicians in the United States, does not hold back when it comes to activism. Growing up to Filipino immigrant parents in a rough area, Bambu de Pistola was born Jonah de Ocampo. At present, Bambu is a brave advocate for social change, with his music covering a wide range of social issues, from immigration and police brutality to worker’s rights and gentrification. The headstrong activist says he is a community organizer first and a musician second, focusing on the struggles of marginalized communities and giving them a voice through rap.
Dave Baustista is known for a lot of things in the Hollywood industry. He initially gained fame as WWE professional wrestler Batista. With a few acting gigs on the side, he is perhaps most well-known as playing Drax in the Marvel movie series Guardians of the Galaxy. Although he was born to Filipino-American parents, he is proud of his Filipino roots, showing his Pinoy pride through a tattoo of the Philippine flag on his shoulder.
Looking for more inspiring stories of Filipinos who made a mark for themselves in the US? Read more about it in our post ‘Filipino Entrepreneurs Who Have Made it in America’.
Jane Adamson is a Canadian import who moved to the Philippines three years ago for a change of pace. After working in the corporate world for ten years, she decided one day to pack up her things and head halfway across the world for a taste of living somewhere brand new.
She lived and worked in Bangkok and Ipoh for a few months as an English teacher, before eventually washing up on the shores of the Philippines. While she has a variety of different interests, Jane’s first loves have always been food and fashion, and she’s looking forward to sharing her thoughts on these on Daydreaming in Paradise.