According to the 2010 Census, there are over 17 million Asian people living in the United States, making up 5.6 percent of the overall American population. When it comes to positive representation in mainstream media, however, the numbers aren't nearly as big. As a matter of fact, as our friends over at Everyday Feminism and Teen Vogue point out, only 1 percent of lead roles in Hollywood movies go to Asian actors.
Yup. You read that right. 1. Measly. Percent. (And don't even get us started on the recent whitewashing epidemic.)
Luckily for us (and despite all of the depressing statistics), there are Asian actors out there making names for themselves in television and film, and the work these men and women are doing now will help inspire future generations of Asian Americans who want to pursue futures in acting and the arts! It's been time to acknowledge the contributions Asian people made (and continue to make) to American culture—especially in the entertainment sphere! Here are 18 actors who are working hard to make sure Asian people get the visibility they so rightfully deserve!
Where you know him: Into the Badlands, Deadpool 2
Lewis Tan, the half-Singaporean, half-British actor and one of the stars of AMC's Into the Badlands has a serious knack for not only acting, but also stunts and martial arts! He slayed (alongside Ryan Reynolds) in the role of Shatterstar in the Deadpool 2 movie!
Where you know her: Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh Off the Boat
Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu is literally one of our most favorite people ever! Her Fresh Off the Boat character Jessica Huang is probably the reason we even watch television in the first place. Since starring in the 2018 movie adaptation of Kevin Kwan's popular 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians, she has become such an outspoken activist when it comes to Asian-American visibility and diversity in Hollywood!
Where you know him: Crazy Rich Asians, Superstore
Crazy Rich Asians and NBC's Superstore definitely wouldn't have been the same without the comedy of gay Filipino actor Nico Santos! We can't wait to see what other amazing projects Nico takes on in his blossoming acting career!
Where you know him: 13 Reasons Why, Riverdale
When we're not stalking all of Ross Butler's Instagram pictures, we're watching the Singapore-born actor on Netflix's popular (and controversial) high school-themed show 13 Reasons Why. He also had a small role on the sixth season of MTV's Teen Wolf, and starred as Reggie Mantle on The CW's Archie Comics reboot, Riverdale.
Where you know him: Riverdale, American Horror Story: Hotel
You've probably already seen Korean-American actor/model Charles Melton on American Horror Story: Hotel, but he is also making a name for himself as Reggie Mantle on The CW's Riverdale, taking over the duties left by the aforementioned heartthrob Ross Butler after he had to leave the show to commit to 13 Reasons Why. The recasting of Charles as Reggie is a big deal, as it kept the role Asian-American. Ross was very happy for Charles, and so are we!!
Where you know her: 13 Reasons Why
Another 13 Reasons Why star, Michele Selene Ang is a fresh face in the acting world, and is also very outspoken about the endemic whitewashing of Asian roles in the mainstream film and television industries. The Asian-American actress plays the role of Courtney Crimson, a gay high school girl with two gay dads.
Where you know him: Lion, Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom, Skins
BAFTA Award-winning, Oscar-nominated, Indian-British actor Dev Patel's acting skills are a force to be reckoned with, and he brings South Asian representation to a film landscape that so desperately needs it.
Where you know her: Pretty Little Liars, You
Canadian actress Shay Mitchell (whose mom is Filipino) burst onto the scene when she starting playing lesbian character Emily Fields in the popular Freeform series Pretty Little Liars. Although she admits that she used to hide her heritage in her teenage years (internalized racism is a problem a lot of young Asian people in North America deal with), she is proud to be half-Filipina, and we love seeing her on our TV screens every chance we get! She's currently starring in the Netflix thriller You.
Now that PLL is over, we can't wait to see what the future has in store for Shay, and what other kinds of acting projects she'll be a part of!
Where you know her: Quantico, Baywatch
Indian actress Priyanka Chopra made history as the first South Asian actor to star in a leading role in an American network series (ABC's Quantico), and the first South Asian actor to win a People's Choice Award! As if that wasn't impressive enough, Priyanka also won the international Miss World beauty pageant in 2000, is a current UNICEF ambassador, and has also been vocal about the need for diversity in entertainment. It's safe to say Priyanka is a complete and total badass!
Where you know him: Crazy Rich Asians, A Simple Favor
Henry made a splash with fans after starring in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians (alongside Constance Wu) and A Simple Favor (alongside Blake Lively), proving that Asian men can be successful leads in mainstream, box office movies. The British-Malaysian actor has a ton of future projects in the works, and we can't wait to see how big his superstardom gets!
Where you know her: Once Upon a Time
Korean-American starlet Jamie Chung got her start as a cast member during the 14th season of the MTV reality show The Real World in 2004, but she made the transition into acting afterwards, nabbing roles in a bunch of movie and TV projects. Her role as the kickass female warrior Mulan in ABC's Once Upon a Time is arguably her most notable, and in the series, her character also turns out to be gay!
Where you know her: The Perfect Match, Honey 3: Dare to Dance, & her singing career
You probably know Cassie Ventura (or simply, Cassie) best as the voice behind the hit 2006 bop "Me & U," but in recent years, the entertainer (whose father is Filipino and whose mother is African-American, Mexican, and West-Indian) has made a foray into acting. She had leading roles in the romantic comedy The Perfect Match and the dance flick Honey 3: Dare to Dance. She's proud of her Filipina roots, and we're proud of her for helping bring more Asian-American visibility to movies! We hope we see Cassie nail more awesome roles!
Where you know him: Glee, Shadowhunters
We initially fell in love with Harry on Glee, but he really stole our hearts after playing Magnus Bane, a bisexual warlock on Freeform's popular fantasy series Shadowhunters. His character's realtionship with Alec Lightwood (played by fellow dreamboat Matthew Daddario) is EVERYTHING to us, and we can't get enough! (#Malec for life!)
Where you know him: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones & his modeling career
Godfrey Gao may be known mostly for his modeling—he was the first Asian male model to be the face of luxury label Louis Vuitton—but the Taipei-born Vancouver native (whose father is Taiwanese and whose mother is from Malaysia) has also got some acting chops. He's been in a ton of Taiwanese movies and TV shows, and he made his US film debut in 2013's The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
Where you know him: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Gay Filipino-Americans need more representation and visibility in TV and movies, and luckily, we have talented folks like Vincent Rodriguez (who is stealing hearts as one of the stars of The CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) to do just that! Rodriguez is also an accomplished theater actor, so we'll definitely be hearing more of his name soon!
Where you know her: Crazy Rich Asians, Mary Queen of Scots
There was so much to love in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians, but one of the film's best scene-stealers was Gemma Chan, who played Nick's supportive, strong, and super chic cousin Astrid! She was also in Josie Rourke's Mary Queen of Scots (alongside Margot Robbie and Saorise Ronan), and we'll be seeing more of Gemma's box office ascension as she stars in the upcoming superhero flick Captain Marvel.
Where you know her: Ocean's 8, Crazy Rich Asians
2018 blockbusters Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians had so many good things going for them, but one of the biggest show stoppers in both those films was the hilarious rapper/actress Awkwafina! The comedy world is in desperate need of Asian women's voices, and in an industry dominated by so many white men, Awkwafina's voice is a refreshing one!
Where you know him: Grey's Anatomy
Alex made headlines back in 2018 after he was cast to play Dr. Nico Kim, Grey's Anatomy's first gay male surgeon. Landi's (a New York native of Korean and Italian descent) casting was a big win for not only queer representation, but Asian male representation in a popular TV series!