Puneet Varma

Asian Americans in arts and entertainment

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedIn
Asian Americans in arts and entertainment

Asian Americans have been involved in the entertainment industry since the first half of the 19th century, when Chang and Eng Bunker (the original "Siamese Twins") became naturalized citizens. Acting roles in television, film, and theater were relatively few, and many available roles were for narrow, stereotypical characters. Early Asian American actors such as Sessue Hayakawa, Anna May Wong, and Bruce Lee encountered a movie-making culture that wanted to cast them as caricatures. Or like actress Merle Oberon who hid her heritage so she wouldn't have been discriminated by Hollywood's racist laws.


Bruce Lee abandoned Hollywood in the early 1970s and achieved worldwide fame in Hong Kong. On another level, frustrated with the limited opportunities given to them, seven Asian American actors formed East West Players (EWP), a Los Angeles-based Asian American theater company, in 1965, to produce their own shows, and the company continues today.

More recently, young Asian American comedians and filmmakers have also found an outlet on YouTube and the Internet, allowing them to gain a strong and loyal fanbase. Notable YouTubers include comedians such as Ryan Higa, Kevin Wu, entertainers such as Dan Chan and Christine Gambito; musicians such as MC Jin, Far East Movement, Sam Tsui, David Choi, and Kina Grannis; and the filmmaking group Wong Fu Productions. These entertainers have gained notable followings, mainly with young Asian American students, through solo and collaborative videos, short films and tours.

Additionally, other Asian American artists have broken out into mainstream audiences beyond the Asian American community. Those include artists such as Bruno Mars, Darren Criss, and The Slants.

19th century

Chang and Eng Bunker had a stable career in entertainment.

Cheng and Eng Buker were conjoined twins who rose to popularity known as the “Siamese Twins” in the 19th century. They were born in 1811 in a village sixty miles from Bangkok. Cheng and Eng were conjoined at the chest at birth, thus starting their career as a human spectacle. They were gawked at in their own country before coming to America at age eighteen. Touring city to city, they were well received, giving performances that featured their unique physiognomy and also highlighted their distinctive wit and innate intelligence. After ten years, at the age of twenty-eight, Chang and Eng retired and decided to settle down in Wilkes County in western North Carolina where they also adopted the surname “Bunker.” In North Carolina, they married sisters Sarah Ann and Adelaide yates and began their lives as southern gentlemen by managing their individual households, plantations, and slaves. The former Siamese Twins from the countryside outside of Bangkok became the wealthiest men in the county and the patriarchs of two large families (between the two, there were twenty-one children). When need be, they returned to touring in order to accumulate more funds. In 1873, both Chang and Eng passed away at age sixty-two.

Despite few Asian/Asian-American entertainers in the 19th century, many entertainment platforms attempt to depict accurate occurrences in 19th century Asia, such as Dunhuang Performative Arts company and their performances exhibiting the journey of the Silk Road in "Dunhuang, My Dreamland." The show portrays Daoist priest Wang Yuanlu in accurate garb and performed by an appropriate actor, Chen Yizong. The playwright sets the stage at the Dunhunag Magao Caves which was historically important for travelers along the Silk Road, especially Buddhist monks from India and central Asia while on their journey to Chang'an (now Xi'an). Among meditations, the caves were used to reference the monastery's texts and records.


Anna May Wong was the first actor of Asian descent to be the leading star of an American television series when she starred on the television series The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.

George Takei and Pat Morita became famous for supporting roles in Star Trek and Happy Days. In 1976, Morita starred on the first American sitcom centered on a person of Asian descent, Mr. T and Tina and went on to become widely known as the mentor Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid movies of the 1980s. Other Asian Americans from this period include Bruce Lee on The Green Hornet and Jack Soo of Barney Miller. Also noteworthy was Keye Luke, who portrayed Master Po on the television series Kung Fu, and was the voice of Charlie Chan on the 1972 animated series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, which featured a mystery solving Chinese American family.

Margaret Cho, stand-up comedian and actress, had a leading role in her own comedy series All-American Girl in the 1990s. Her character was a Korean-American (as is Cho), who struggled with her family and cultural issues in San Francisco. The series included other Asian American actors such as Amy Hill. Despite being groundbreakng in prime-time television, All American Girl was cancelled after one season due to low ratings. After its run, due to the way it was handled and the pressures that were forced on her to conform to vague mainstream expectations to try to make the series a success, Cho suffered a huge psychotic break and self-disappointment that led to her drug and alcohol addiction. (It would later be revealed that female stars of even successful sitcoms go through similar trials as related by Roseanne Barr in her story for New York Magazine in 2011.) Cho has since regained popularity and success from her 2000 one-woman show I'm the One That I Want and through her current involvement on Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime.

Amy Hill has since been a mainstay of U.S. television for years as a recurring/character actress, some of her most notable roles include, Mrs. DePaulo on That's So Raven, Mama Tohru on Jackie Chan Adventures, Mrs. Hasagawa on Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Ah-Mah Jasmine Lee on The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, Judy Harvey on Enlightened, Mah Mah on American Dad!, Dr. Wagerstein on UnREAL, and now Lourdes Chan on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Lucy Liu had a major role on the television series Ally McBeal from 1998 to 2002 where she was nominated for an Emmy Award. Liu now plays Joan Watson alongside Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock Holmes) on Elementary.

Daniel Dae Kim and Sendhil Ramamurthy have achieved some recognition as sex symbols for their respective roles on Lost and has since moved onto Hawaii Five-0 and Heroes. Sendhil has moved onto the television series Covert Affairs and Beauty & the Beast. Although not an actor, Jon Gosselin has received from the reality series Jon and Kate Plus 8 sex symbol status. Masi Oka starred on the cast of the television series Heroes is also the only lead actor on the series to be nominated for either an Emmy Award or Golden Globe Award. Along with Ramamurthy and Oka, James Kyson Lee also starred on Heroes.

B. D. Wong, who starred in the Broadway production of M. Butterfly and is the only actor to have won a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, among others currently stars on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit after being featured in the critically acclaimed series Oz.

Asian American and Canadian actress Grace Park having rose to fame on Battlestar Galactica and Edgemont (from Canada) is now a cast member of Hawaii Five-0.

Kal Penn was formerly a regular on the popular medical television series House M.D. in one of his best known roles and later recurred on How I Met Your Mother. Asian American actress Charlyne Yi was also a regular on House, and was with the series from 2011 until it ended.

Maggie Q, of Vietnamese, Polish and Irish descent, who first rose to fame in Hong Kong achieved international fame when she starred as the title role on the television series Nikita. She is going to star on the upcoming television series Designated Survivor.

Mindy Kaling has been a regular on the critically acclaimed and immensely popular United States version of The Office since the beginning of the series in 2005 until 2012 and now is the series lead and creator of her own television series The Mindy Project which is also the very first U.S. television series starring a South Asian American series lead.

Aziz Ansari former star and co-creator of the famed cult sketch comedy Human Giant is currently a series regular on the critically acclaimed and exceptionally popular NBC political satire & comedy television series Parks and Recreation. Now Ansari portrays the lead on his own television series Master of None.

After landing a role on As the World Turns, Ming-Na starred as Dr. Deb Chen in the medical drama television series ER from 1995 to 2004 and played a lead in The Joy Luck Club (1993). She went on to star in other successful television series such as Stargate Universe and lent her voice to the protagonist in the animated film Mulan (1998).

Parminder Nagra (British Asian) was featured as a cast member on the medical drama ER as Dr. Neela Rasgotra for five seasons from 2003–2009 all the way until the end of the series. She recently was a part of the cast of The Blacklist during the series' first season. Archie Panjabi (British Asian) starred in the acclaimed and very successful CBS television series The Good Wife.

Reiko Aylesworth was part of the cast of the critically acclaimed hit television series 24. Sonja Sohn was a series regular on the entire run of the critically acclaimed television series The Wire.

Both Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Jennie Kwan in the past were both popularly known to the teen and children audiences for their roles on television series Saved by the Bell and California Dreams respectively both aimed at youth in the 1990s. The late Thuy Trang is probably a familiar face to many children and young adults for her role as the original yellow ranger Trini Kwan on the children's television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and since Thuy there have been many Asian American actors who have succeeded her in the Power Rangers franchise. Brenda Song is a Thai-Hmong American actress known to younger audiences for starring in several Disney Channel productions including The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, The Suite Life on Deck, Stuck in the Suburbs (2004) and Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (2006). Ryan Potter first rose to prominence on the children's television series Supah Ninjas.

Recently, the U.S. television series Survivor created teams along racial lines during Survivor: Cook Islands. People of East and Southeast Asian ancestry composed the Asian American tribe. Asian American Yul Kwon won the season. Tila Tequila was the star of the two-season MTV show A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. Olivia Munn, from Oklahoma of Chinese descent on her mother's side, is an actress, model, and television personality best known as a correspondent on The Jon Stewart Show. She co-hosted G4's Attack of the Show!, and enjoyed roles in movies such as Iron Man 2 (2010). South Korea-born SuChin Pak was a news correspondent frequently seen on MTV News and now the host of G Word for Planet Green. Jamie Chung is a Korean-American actress and former reality television personality. She first gained fame in 2004 as a cast member on the MTV reality series, The Real World: San Diego and appearing on its spin-off series, Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II. She is regarded by many as the Real World alumna with the most successful media career. She has since been a recurring guest star on Once Upon a Time as Mulan.

Korean-American actress Yun Jin Kim and the Asian Canadian Sandra Oh of the ABC television series Lost and Grey's Anatomy, respectively, were during their series' runs the main two Asian American actors in lead roles on network television (the latter is still on air), although both part of large-ensemble casts, where minority characters are more likely to be found. Oh was nominated for many Emmy Awards and won a Golden Globe Award.

Korean-American actor Steven Yeun plays one of the leading roles as Glenn Rhee in AMC's The Walking Dead. Arden Cho is a Korean-American actress, singer and model, starring on the prominent television series Teen Wolf as Kira Yukimura.

Jenna Ushkowitz, Darren Criss and Harry Shum, Jr. of the hugely popular teen series Glee are also prominent Asian American actors currently on network television. Darren Criss is a half-Filipino actor who also recently gained fame through the viral hit A Very Potter Musical and now Broadway theatre.

Danny Pudi and Ken Jeong are series regular on the popular cult NBC comedy series Community and through the run of the series, Pudi's character became the series' breakout character mainly due to the character's personality, popular culture references, and style of meta comedy.

Chloe Bennet is a Chinese-European American who gained fame as a pop star in China under the name, Wāng Kěyíng (汪可盈). She stars on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as one of the main leads alongside Ming-Na Wen. Daniel Henney, who is a half Korean American, also first gained fame overseas in South Korea had since been a recurring guest-star on CBS' Hawaii Five-0 and now stars on Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

Also a recurring guest star on Hawaii Five-0 is Ian Anthony Dale, who also starred on The Event and now stars on Murder in the First.

He Ki Hong Lee has become well known for portraying Dong Nguyen in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The first American sitcom starring an all Asian-American family since Margaret Cho's All American Girl aired in February 2015, gaining overall critical acclaim among the television series community. Among its cast is Randall Park, Constance Wu, Hudson Yang and Ian Chen. It is loosely based on food personality Eddie Huang's book, Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir.


Anna May Wong was the first Asian American to have become an international acting star. She became a fashion icon during the silent film era, beginning with her success in the film The Toll of the Sea (1922), the first color feature to be made in Hollywood. During her career she sought roles that portrayed Chinese and Asian Americans in a positive light, but these films never became famous except for a select few such as the film Daughter of Shanghai (1937). Frustrated by being stereotyped and typecast during her career in the United States, she moved to Europe, where she appeared in many critically acclaimed plays and films, the most notable of which was the British film Piccadilly (1929). She later returned to the United States in an ironic twist, at a time when American studios were searching Europe for fresh new talent, despite the fact that she is an American. She returned with promises of leading roles, but these did not come about due to racism in the United States. She eventually stopped acting in professional films and turned to stage, cabaret, B movies, and anti-Japanese propaganda films such as Bombs Over Burma (1943) due to her being an advocacy against the Japanese aggression in China. She was set to make her comeback with the film Flower Drum Song (1961) but was unable due to failing health. Despite a prolific career Wong's only film to have ever been a truly big success was Shanghai Express (1932).

Sessue Hayakawa was the first and one of the few Asian American/Asian actors to find stardom in the United States and Europe and was also the first leading Asian male actor in the United States. He became the first male sex symbol of Hollywood long before and the precursor to Rudolph Valentino. His fame rivaled that of Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. His fame began during the silent film era, leading into sound pictures in his later life. He became a film actor in a somewhat reluctant and accidental manner when the famous producer Thomas Ince saw his theatre play The Typhoon and wanted to turn it into a silent film and when it was released the film was an instant hit. With rising stardom he was eventually offered film contract by Famous Players-Lasky now Paramount Pictures. His second film with the production company, The Cheat (1915), was a success and made him a romantic hit with U.S. female audiences. He became a leading man of romance films, considered a heartthrob and a sex symbol; many actresses wanted to work with him in films, in which he was often cast as the exotic male Asian lover that women desired. After years of being typecast as a villain and exotic Asian lover that white women could not have, he decided to start his own production company, where he eventually made 23 films; he produced, starred in, and directed them, and contributed to their design, writing and editing. His films also influenced the way the United States viewed Asians. He personally chose the highly popular American actress Marin Sais to appear opposite him in his films such as The City of Dim Faces and His Birthright. Hayakawa's collaboration with Sais ended with the film Bonds of Honor (1919). In 1919, Hayakawa made what is generally considered one of his best films, The Dragon Painter. After some bad business, he left the United States and for the next 15 years he worked in Europe and Japan where he made many popular films and plays such as the films The Great Prince Chan and the play Samurai which he performed for the king and queen of the United Kingdom at that time King George V and Queen Mary and a stage play version of The Three Musketeers. His fame in France came from France's fascination with anything Asian. In the 1930s with the rise of Talkies and growing Anti-Japanese sentiment due to World War II. During the war, he tried to perform in Europe but eventually became trapped by the Germans and for years was not able to work as an actor until Humphrey Bogart tracked him and down and offered him a role in the his film Tokyo Joe (1949) which became a hit and afterwards he did another successful film Three Came Home (1950). After the war his image in films this time was as the honorable villain which he became typecasted as and from it he starred in what is considered to be his most famous film of his entire career The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) for which he was nominated for both an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award.

Merle Oberon an actress of Old Hollywood starred in many successful films, and was nominated for the Oscar for Best actress for the film The Dark Angel (1935) and is most renowned for her performance in the film version of Wuthering Heights (1939). In the United Kingdom, she starred in the successful films The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). Despite her success as an actress, Oberon hid her Indian heritage due to her history of discrimination growing up in India. So much so she invented a fake story of the origin of her birth and early life.

Miyoshi Umeki won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in for Sayonara (1957). Haing Ngor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields (1984).

Sho Kosugi achieved stardom in the United States and internationally during the 1980s. After thrilling audiences as the third lead and villain in Enter the Ninja (1981), he was given the solo lead starring role as the hero in the follow-up film Revenge of the Ninja (1983). Like Bruce Lee did with Kung Fu in the 1970s, Sho Kosugi ignited a worldwide Ninja craze in the 1980s with his films. And similar to the Bruceploitation phenomenon that followed Lee's death, many copy-cat ninja films were made following the worldwide popularity of Sho's early ninja films. A number of films produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan even used Sho's image on their posters and home video covers, despite the fact that Mr. Kosugi was not involved in these productions. Sho's image as a ninja was used and continues to be used on unsanctioned T-Shirts, posters, fans, collectibles, and even Video game covers like The Last Ninja. Following his starring role in Revenge of the Ninja, he would go on to be the lead star in 6 more American films: Ninja III: The Domination (1984), 9 Deaths of the Ninja (1985), Pray For Death (1985), Rage of Honor (1987), Black Eagle (1988), and Journey of Honor (1991) which he also produced and co-wrote. He also received “special appearance” credit in the American films Aloha Summer (1988) and Blind Fury (1989), and was the third lead in the Japanese film Kyokuto Kuroshakai (1993). Sho also co-starred in the NBC TV series The Master where he played double-duty as the lead villain and also doubled for actor Lee Van Cleef in most of the fight scenes. Along with his on-screen work, Sho also served as fight choreographer, ninja technical advisor, and stunt coordinator on many of his projects. He also directed two V-cinema movies in Japan starring his son Kane Kosugi. While working in Japan, Sho also had a high profile role in the prestigious long-running NHK Taiga Drama TV series Ryūkyū no Kaze (Dragon Spirit) (1993) and was a special guest star in 2 episodes of 1994–1995 TV series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, part of the long running Super Sentai series. After 16 years off the silver screen, Sho returned as the lead villain in Ninja Assassin (2009) produced by Hollywood heavyweights the Wachowskis, Joel Silver and Grant Hill, and directed by James McTeigue: "If you've ever watched any ninja films from the 1980s, you know that Sho Kosugi is the ninja; he is the man," asserts McTeigue.

Mako Iwamatsu was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Sand Pebbles (1966). He also starred in other noted films Conan the Barbarian (1982) and its sequel Conan the Destroyer (1984), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), Seven Years in Tibet (1997), The Bird People in China (1998) and Pearl Harbor (2001). Pat Morita was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film The Karate Kid (1984).

Nancy Kwan after the release of her film The World of Suzie Wong (1960), she became a sex symbol in her film career in the 1960s. In the legacy of Sessue Hayakawa, James Shigeta often in his early career in the late 1950s-1960s played romantic male lead roles even interracial ones, which as an actor of Asian descent during his time was almost non-existent. Philip Ahn was the first Asian American film actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Lou Diamond Phillips had leading roles in several motion pictures including La Bamba (1987), Stand and Deliver (1988), Young Guns (1988) Che (2008).

Lucy Liu was one of the lead actresses in the popular Charlie's Angels movies and continued to hold her own in Rob Marshall's Chicago (2002) and Quentin Tarentino's Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), the latter for which she was paid $5.5 million. She also was the first Asian American woman to host Saturday Night Live in 2000. She also recently had hit releases with the film Kung Fu Panda (2008) and its sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011).

John Cho, a Korean-born American actor, famously portrayed Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek reboot, as well as appearing in the first American Pie series and the Harold & Kumar series along with popular Indian American actor Kal Penn. Penn, also starred in The Namesake, one of his favorite books, taught a course and seminar on images of Asian Americans in the media at the University of Pennsylvania.

Making waves in the entertainment industry, Korean-born, US-raised actor Ki Hong Lee rose to international fame as Minho in the film adaptation of James Dashner's book series, The Maze Runner.

Ming-Na Wen, Ryan Potter and Jordan Nagai starred in highly impacting voice roles in the animated Disney and Pixar films Mulan (1998), Up (2009) and Big Hero 6 (2014).

Maggie Q after achieving fame in Hong Kong has since starred in popular big budget and big box office films Mission: Impossible III (2006), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and most recently as the character Tori Wu in The Divergent Series and will have three upcoming films. Daniel Henney also having gained fame overseas in South Korea has since starred in popular American films X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), The Last Stand (2013), and the animated Oscar-winning Disney film Big Hero 6 (2014).

The international star Joan Chen (Chong Chen) was featured in numerous films from China, the United States, Australia, and many other countries. She has won numerous awards for her acting and has also directed a film.

South-Korean actor and superstar Lee Byung-hun, has already starred in numerous American production including Red 2 (2013), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and Terminator Genisys (2015). Indian superstar and actress Priyanka Chopra is beginning to work in American cinema and is currently filming the action comedy Baywatch (2017).

Claudia Kim, a South-Korean actress, recently starred in the blockbuster movie Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) as Dr. Helen Cho.

Film directing

Ang Lee is the much sought-after director of the critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Life of Pi, three of which have won Academy Awards. Although much of Ang Lee's work does not deal specifically with Asian people, themes or settings, Lee has made one film in his native Taiwan (Eat Drink Man Woman) and two films in mainland China (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Lust, Caution). In addition, his first two features, Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet, both set in the United States, deal primarily with Taiwanese and Chinese American characters and their attempts to navigate between the demands of their ancestral traditions and contemporary American culture. Pushing Hands deals with an interracial marriage where the man, of Chinese ancestry, has brought his traditional-minded father to live with the family, which is a source of tension with his wife until they learn to appreciate one another's cultures. The Wedding Banquet is a comedy that deals with a young, prosperous Taiwanese-born gay man who lives and works in New York, and his attempts to conceal his sexual orientation from his visiting parents, who are pushing him to marry.

M. Night Shyamalan has directed a number of movies, including Signs, The Village, Unbreakable, and the Academy Award-nominated The Sixth Sense.

Mira Nair has acclaimed movies including Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake to her credit.

Director Justin Lin brought attention to the experiences of Asian Americans through his movie Better Luck Tomorrow, which included an almost exclusively Asian American cast. He has since directed The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, its prequel Fast & Furious, and the sequels Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.

Cary Fukunaga, an American of Japanese and Swedish descent, won the directing and cinematography awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival for Sin Nombre. His 2011 film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender was also well received.

Wayne Wang is a pioneering director and writer of Asian American cinema, having made notable films such as Chan is Missing, Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, Life Is Cheap... But Toilet Paper Is Expensive, Chinese Box, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, The Princess of Nebraska, The Joy Luck Club, and Eat a Bowl of Tea. He was very well known in the 90s for directing the hit Independent film Smoke and he has also had mainstream success with the films Anywhere but Here, Maid in Manhattan, and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Gregg Araki is an influential American independent filmmaker of Japanese ancestry, who is especially noted for his often playful, punk-influenced work dealing with young, often gay, members of generation X trying to define themselves in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, rampant consumerism, and childhood trauma. His films such as The Doom Generation, The Living End and Nowhere were seen to exemplify the alienation and hedonistic abandon of their times, while his 2004 film Mysterious Skin, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a dramatic role, was highly acclaimed for a dark and realistic portrait of the effects of child sexual abuse.

So Yong Kim is a Korean American independent filmmaker who was awarded the Special Jury Prize at Sundance for her debut feature, In Between Days, which was shot in Toronto, but was loosely based on her own experiences growing up in Los Angeles as a newly arrived immigrant who felt alienated from the surrounding world. In the film, the protagonist is a teenage Korean girl transplanted to North America who must take responsibility for her own life as her mother is not around much and her father is estranged from the family. A raw, largely improvised romance shot digitally with first-time actors, In Between Days received enough attention for Kim to make her next film, the childhood drama Treeless Mountain, in her birth country of South Korea. Her latest and third feature, For Ellen, is set in the United States and stars Paul Dano as a man going through a divorce.


Major films have been based on Asian American novels, such as Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake (2007) and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Others have been created based on stories about Asian American communities.

Lin Yutang and his work "Chinatown Family" strays from the film representation of Asian Americans and attempts to depict the accurate representation of Asian Americans during the 1950's. Lin's works were considered Orientalist, seeing as they were a polar opposite to the style of most Asian American writers after 1965. Yet, Lin's works are still ignored when studying the history of Asian American genealogy and subjectivity.

Film and TV production and theater

Wah Chang was the designer for many of the props on the Star Trek series as well as The Time Machine, which received an Academy Award for special effects.

James Wong, a Hong Kong-born writer raised in the US, was a writer, co-executive producer and consulting producer of The X-Files in its first, second and fourth seasons (1993–1997); co-creator, producer and writer of the TV series Space: Above and Beyond (1995–1996); and writer, consulting producer and co-executive producer of Millennium in its first and second seasons (1996–1998). Before The X-Files, Wong had worked as a writer on police dramas such as 21 Jump Street, The Commish, Booker and Wiseguy as well as on the script for the independent crime film The Boys Next Door (1984), starring Charlie Sheen in his first leading role. Wong later wrote, produced and directed horror and action films such as Final Destination (2000) and the Jet Li-starring The One (2001), and he was hired by 20th Century Fox to direct Dragonball Evolution (2009), although like other producers and crew members on that production, complained of having little creative input as the studio made all the major decisions. As part of the initial production crew on The X-Files, Wong was among the most influential four writer-producers who worked closely with X-Files creator Chris Carter to define the characters, plots and aesthetics of the new series (the others were Glen Morgan, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa). Wong was responsible with his longtime writing partner Glen Morgan for introducing a number of elements that defined The X-Files throughout its run. Wong co-wrote "Squeeze," only the second X-Files episode ever produced, and the first "monster of the week" episode, which would provide a template for two thirds of the future episodes of the series; "Ice," the first episode to focus centrally on the Mulder/Scully relationship as the key to its plot; "Beyond the Sea," the first episode to receive notable critical acclaim beyond the science fiction genre, the first episode with serious character development for Gillian Anderson in her role as Dana Scully, and also Carter's personal favorite episode of the series; "E.B.E.," the first episode to introduce The Lone Gunmen trio of characters, whose popularity resulted in their own short-lived spinoff series (without Wong's participation) in 2001; "Tooms," the first episode to introduce the character of Walter Skinner, Mulder and Scully's boss, who would become a more central character over the remainder of the series, and also the first episode to give a speaking part to the Cigarette Smoking Man, the main nemesis of Mulder and Scully for most of the series' run; "Little Green Men," the first mythology episode to make use of voiceover and flashback; "Blood," the first episode to include a story contribution from Glen Morgan's brother Darin Morgan, who would become the most acclaimed X-Files writer and the only one to win an Emmy for his writing; "3," the first episode in which Mulder or Scully was involved in a sexual situation; "One Breath," the resolution episode for the abduction plot that was the foundation of the series' long running mythology; "Die Hand Die Verletzt," the first episode in which Kim Manners, who became the series' most prolific director over its nine seasons, was brought on board to direct, being an acquaintance of Morgan and Wong from their work with Manners on previous TV series; and "Home," the first episode to be preceded by a warning from the network that it was intended for mature audiences only due to its disturbing content. James Wong, in his directorial debut, also directed the episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," for which he received an Emmy nomination, also becoming the first member of the series's regular writing staff (after Chris Carter) to direct an episode, as well as the only person of color to ever direct an X-Files episode. Wong's Emmy nomination for directing "Musings" made him the first Asian American to receive an Emmy nomination for directing anything on television; at that time, no Asian American and no person of Chinese descent had yet been nominated for an Oscar for directing a film. Wong was also, along with Chris Carter (nominated a year later) the only director of an X-Files episode to be Emmy nominated for his work. As part of The X-Files main production team in 1994–1995, Wong shared the show's first Golden Globe Award win for Best Dramatic Series, and also shared its second win (The X-Files would become the first series to win a Golden Globe three times) in the 1996–1997 season.

Mindy Kaling, a Dartmouth graduate, has been involved from the beginning in the production of the American series of The Office, having originally been the only female writer on a staff of eight; since the show's eighth season she has been an executive producer. She has since created her own show, The Mindy Project which she produces, writes, and stars in.

Lance Fong was the director of photography on recent Hollywood hits 300, The Watchmen, Super 8, and Suckerpunch.

Mark Yoshikawa was the editor on several of Terrence Malick's films, including The New World, The Tree of Life, and will be on the forthcoming Knight of Cups.

Curt Apduhan is a NATAS News/Documentary Cinematography Emmy awarded cinematographer for the Sundance Channel feature documentary Amargosa, about a dancer who performs regularly in an opera house in a California ghost town.

In 2007, Myx TV became the first Asian American music, entertainment and lifestyle network.


The musical Flower Drum Song was based on the 1957 novel, The Flower Drum Song, by Chinese-American author C. Y. Lee, which in turn was based on the San Francisco nightclub Forbidden City that was popular for military men in transit during World War II. Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it into a musical produced on Broadway in 1958 and on film in 1961, and both starred a number of Asian American actors. Largely remembered for the hit song "I Enjoy Being A Girl", it would not be produced with an all-Asian American cast until a 2002 Broadway revival.

In 1965, frustrated with the limited opportunities given to them, actors Mako, James Hong, Beulah Quo, Pat Li, and June Kim, together with Guy Lee and Yet Lock, formed East West Players (EWP), a Los Angeles-based Asian American theater company – the first of its kind. They produced their own shows to allow Asian American actors the opportunity to perform a wide range of leading roles. As the need still exists, EWP continues today. Dozens of other Asian American theater companies have since formed in major cities throughout the USA, providing similar outlets elsewhere.

In 1988, playwright David Henry Hwang's Broadway hit M. Butterfly won a Tony Award for Best Play, among other awards. Singer and actress Lea Salonga, who broke out in the lead role in the musical Miss Saigon, was also the first Asian to play the roles of Éponine and Fantine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway, and is still active on Broadway.

Margaret Cho won the American Comedy Award for Best Female Comedian in 1994. Comedian Byron Yee's show Paper Son was awarded "Outstanding Solo Show" at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Telly Leung started his Broadway career in 2002 as a performer in Flower Drum Song. He later went on to perform in Pacific Overtures, Wicked (musical), RENT (musical) both on Broadway as a performer and as Angel at the Hollywood Bowl, Godspell, and originate the role of Young Sam in George Takei's Allegiance (musical).

Allegiance (musical), which ran on Broadway from October 2015 to February 2016, is set during the Japanese American internment of World War II (with a framing story set in the present day), and was inspired by the personal experiences of George Takei, who stars in the musical along with Lea Salonga.

Phillipa Soo starred as Natasha Rostova in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 in the Off-Broadway productions, and as Elizabeth Schuyler in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton (musical), winning a cast Grammy Award for musical theater album.

Kimiko Glenn starred as Dawn in the original Broadway cast of Waitress (musical), the musical adaption of the film of the same name.


Notable works of world architecture have been designed by Asian Americans, such as the Louvre Pyramid (I.M. Pei), the World Trade Center (Minoru Yamasaki), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Maya Lin). In commercial architecture, Gyo Obata is a founding partner of HOK (formerly Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum), which designed the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and the Taipei World Trade Center. Fazlur Rahman Khan designed the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), both in Chicago.

Fashion design

Many Asian Americans have made their mark in the fashion world. Vera Wang, friend to Anna Wintour, and Anna Sui have been working as highly accomplished and awarded fashion designers for years. Philippines-born Monique Lhuillier's dresses are on the Hollywood red carpet and Vietnamese-American Chloe Dao won Project Runway in spring 2006. Other designers include Phillip Lim, 2006 CFDA Emerging Talent Award Winner Doo-Ri Chung, and 2005 Winner Derek Lam; all three have been featured in Vogue magazine several times. At the Fashion Institute of Technology, 23 percent of the nearly 1,200 students now enrolled are either Asian or Asian American.


With the advent of YouTube, young Asian Americans have become more prominent, gaining large followings through filmmaking, comedy, or music. This includes video bloggers/comedians such as The Fung Brothers, Kevin Wu, Anna Akana, Ryan Higa and the filmmaking group Wong Fu Productions. The latter's growing influence is evident especially in Wong Fu Productions' annual concert series, International Secret Agents (ISA), which often sell out, and in which many popular Asian American guest performers appear, including Far East Movement or Poreotics. Kevin Wu's recent appearance on the 17th season of The Amazing Race marked another significant venture into mainstream media. These along with other rising Asian American talents have shared and documented their journey in Asian American blogs, including channelAPA.com Amped Asia magazine, Hyphen magazine, and Mochi.

Brothers Jimmy Wong and Freddie Wong also own popular YouTube channels, with the former acting in and the latter producing the web series Video Game High School.


Asian American writers have received numerous top awards in fiction and nonfiction writing. Women writers have been particularly prominent for their work of telling a wide range of stories of immigrant experience, changing cultures and aspects of Asian American imagination, spanning continents, eras and points of view. Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Critics Circle award in 1976 for her memoir The Woman Warrior. Bharati Mukherjee won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1988 for her short-story collection The Middleman and Other Stories. Jessica Hagedorn won a 1990 American Book Award for her novel Dogeaters. Chang-Rae Lee received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for his novel Native Speaker (1995). Amy Tan has received popular acclaim for her work and had a novel produced as a film. Jhumpa Lahiri received a 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies. Kiran Desai won the British Man Booker Prize (2006) and National Book Critics Circle Award (2006) for her second novel The Inheritance of Loss. Her mother Anita Desai has also been nominated for major awards for her novels. Naomi Hirahara won a 2007 Edgar Award for her novel Snakeskin Shamisen.

Graphic artists

As regarded by frequent speaker at the San Diego Comic Con, Gina Misiroglu, Jim Lee is one of the most popular comic book artist and one of the founders of Image Comics.

Dave Halili (of Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Pacific Islander, and European heritage) is a contemporary American fine arts illustrator, graffiti writer and graphic designer of album cover paintings, posters, logos, T-shirts and other graphical merchandise. His best-known works are the CD /record covers for Ice-T and tour apparel for bands such as No Doubt, Stone Temple Pilots, Kurtis Blow, Fishbone and others.

Hip hop and R&B

Asian Americans are increasingly enjoying success in mainstream hip hop and R&B such as MC Jin. A few notable examples are multi-racial Amerie, Cassie, Ne-Yo, who is one-quarter Chinese, Filipino-American Nicole Scherzinger who is of Filipino, Hawaiian, and Ukrainian descent apl.de.ap of The Black Eyed Peas, and Jin. There are many more Asian Americans represented in local hip-hop scenes, including rising acts like Baiyu and the Blue Scholars. In 2010 and 2011, half-Filipino singer-songwriter Bruno Mars broke into the Top 10 with his singles "Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade". In October 2010, Far East Movement became the first Asian American band to break into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 with their single "Like a G6", which eventually reached No. 1.

Desi hip hop

There are also major underground hip hop artists who have developed a following, such as the Pakistani American rapper Bohemia who is known as the creator of Punjabi rap music.

There is a genre of music called Desi hip hop due to its contributions and influences by many nations including the USA by the South Asian diaspora including South Asian Americans especially by pioneers such as Pakistani-American Bohemia himself. Desi hip hop is one of only two music genres to have been either created by Asian Americans or have been contributed to musically by the community (in this case South Asian Americans) to the genre.

Asian American Jazz

Asian American jazz is a musical genre and movement in the United States begun in the 20th century by Asian American jazz musicians that has produced a number of very prominent artists. Along with Desi Hip Hop who has many origins including the USA it is currently one of only two musical genres to have been created by Asian Americans or been influenced by them. Some Asian-American Jazz artists are Toshiko Akiyoshi (piano), Vijay Iyer (piano), Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone), Jon Jang (piano), Tiger Okoshi (trumpet), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), Connie Han (piano), and Hitomi Oba (tenor saxophone).

Popular Music

In popular music, Asian Americans are a sizable influence, including pop divas such as part-Filipino Vanessa Hudgens, Utada Hikaru, and Lea Salonga. Folk singer-songwriter and Christian Dawn Xiana Moon was the first to blend traditional Chinese music with Americana, pop, and jazz, and Vienna Teng is notable for a folk/pop sound without the Eastern influences.

Asian Americans play in a handful of "all-American" bands, including quarter-Indonesian Eddie Van Halen, James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins, Keralan Indian Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, part-Filipino Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof, Indian Tony Kanal of No Doubt, half-Japanese Miki Berenyi of Lush, John Famiglietti of HEALTH, Richard On of O.A.R., Joey Santiago of Pixies, Kenny Choi of Daphne Loves Derby, Hoobastank's Doug Robb and former member Derek Kwan, and Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda a Japanese American and Joseph Hahn, a Korean American. Mike Park is prominent in the independent music sphere as a member of Skankin' Pickle, The Bruce Lee Band, and The Chinkees, as well as being the founder of Asian Man Records.

Don Ho was a Grammy Award-winning Hawaiian pop singer and entertainer. Tia Carrere is a Hawaiian singer, actress, and former model best known as Cassandra Wong in the Wayne's World movies and for her leading role on the television series Relic Hunter; her album Hawaiiana was nominated for an Grammy. Singer-songwriter Norah Jones is also very successful. Nadia Ali, singer-songwriter and the former front-woman of iiO is prominent in the electronic dance music genre, with her work having attained both critical and commercial success.

Internationally, US-born Leehom Wang is a well-known musician in mainland China and Taiwan, and also played a part in Ang Lee's 2007 film Lust, Caution. In the heavy metal genre, Aja Kim, has achieved notoriety as lead vocalist in the role of Bruce 'Lee' Chickinson for the tribute band, The Iron Maidens. Also US-born is singer Ailee, whose captivating voice caught the attention of Korean R&B singer, Wheesung. Her vocal prowess and captivating voice won her many awards and is the reason she is dubbed the "Korean Beyonce."

The Slants are often known as the first and only all-Asian American band of their genre and are probably best known for their landmark trademark case against the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


In classical music, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and conductor Zubin Mehta are examples of significant Asian American figures. The classical violinists Sarah Chang and Midori Gotō have each been awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, as has Ma. The composer Bright Chang has received extensive recognition for his work, including being invited to be composer-in-residence at the New York City Ballet. Hunan, China-born New York City resident Tan Dun is a contemporary classical composer, well known for his Grammy and Oscar-award winning scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.


Asian American art is one of the last genres to be added to modern day collections; however, many notable painters have drawn inspiration from art techniques of Asian-origin. In the 19th century, painters like Whistler and Van Gogh used various Japanese works as models for their artwork. At the same time, many Japanese painters were moving to California to blend their work with what would become new Western Techniques. Asian American art can mostly be traced back to the West Coast with artists also popping up in New York.

Paul Horiuchi was a Japanese-born American painter best known for his abstract collages of torn, hand-colored mulberry paper. Active in Seattle, he created the glass mural behind the Seattle Center amphitheater in 1962.

Indian-American Faris McReynolds is a Los Angeles-based artist and musician. Sueo Serisawa helped establish the California Impressionist style of painting. Los Angeles-based artists James Jean and David Choe have received domestic and international recognition within the Lowbrow art scene.

Martin Wong was a San Francisco and New York-based queer painter that made notable contributions to the 1980s East Village art scene. Wong was also involved with the growing New York graffiti art scene of this time and collected pieces from artists like Futura 2000 and Keith Haring.

Unfortunately, the Japanese Internment Camps following WWII put a halt to a lot of Asian American artists. Art that resulted from this time serves as some of the only documentation of the trials and tribulations of the many Japanese Americans who were forced into camps.

Roger Shimomura is a painter and printmaker whose works combine pop culture motifs, racial stereotypes, and evocations of his childhood experiences in the Minidoka internment camp during World War II.

Abstract expressionism exploded onto the scene in the 1950s, drawing inspiration from calligraphy.


Isamu Noguchi was one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century. Born in Los Angeles to a Japanese poet father and American writer mother, he spent most of his childhood in Japan, and his drew both from traditional Japanese aesthetics and international modernism. He worked many mediums, including clay, wood, and stainless steel, but is particularly associated with stone. In 1935 he began a career-long collaboration with dancer Martha Graham for whom he designed some 20 stage sets. Major works include the Unesco headquarters peace garden in Paris, the Sunken Garden for the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden for the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem.

George Tsutakawa was a Seattle-based painter and sculptor best known for his avant-garde bronze fountain designs. His son Gerard Tsutakawa, who apprenticed with his father, is a contemporary Pacific Northwest sculptor.


Herb Tam is the curator and director of exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America.

The Yellowface Trend

The entertainment industry has created a negative discourse around the Asian American community, associating them, solely, with negative stereotypes such as the Dragon Lady, Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan, and foreigners. Implicit and explicit bias towards Asian Americans (AA’s) leads to discrimination and thus results in an inaccurate representation and unequal employment in film, television, and society. The yellowface trend is one that is heavily impacting the employment of Asian Americans. As stated in University of San Francisco’s Christina Shu Jien Chong’s research journal, Yellow Facing was a go-to tactic for casting directors as early as the 1970’s . Yellowface is applying makeup on a white actor or actress to make him or her appear more Asian. When a storyline cannot be changed from Asian to White, non-Asians are typically hired and then yellowface. Yellowface is a topic many believe has become obsolete, yet, in recent years, it has become more and more prominent; yet in today’s society, in lieu of yellowface, casting directors are now blatantly opting for white actors and actresses over Asian American ones. For example, in 2009, Justin Chatwin, a white actor, portrayed a Chinese anime character, Goku, in Dragonball: Evolution. In 2011, Noah Ringer, also a white actor, portrayed an Eastern Asian monk in The Last Airbender. In 2013, Clifton Collins, Jr., a Mexican-American actor, portrayed a Chinese-American character, Tendo Choi, in Pacific Rim. In 2015, Emma Stone, a white actress, portrayed a local Hawaiian character, Allison Ng, in Aloha. The most recent account of historical yellowface was in Disney on Ice’s 2015 Dare to Dream production, in which Li Shang, a Chinese general from Mulan, was cast as a white male who wore a black wig and painted slanted eyes. All the effort put into re-creating the Asian look into something more White supports the notion of Beauty Whitewash where beauty is validated through white standards.

Stereotyping of Asian Americans in Film: Dragon Lady/ Lotus Flower Dichotomy

Asian American characters and their representation in mainstream media, especially in the film and entertainment industry, are often one-dimensional and seriously lacking in depth. East Asian Americans in the film and media industry are often fetishized and exoticized, perpetuating damaging images of asian women as either the “dragon lady” or “lotus flower” dichotomy. An example is Lucy Liu’s dragon lady character O-Ren Ishii in “Kill Bill”, as well as Anna May Wong's character in "Daughter of the Dragon". According to author Kent Ono, "Usually yellow peril discourse constructs and Asian-white dialectic emphasizing the powerful, threatening potential of Asian's and Asian Americans, while simultaneously constructing whites as vulnerable, threatened, or otherwise in danger." These limiting and offensive roles offered to Asian Americans further the US’s exoticism and fetishism of Asian women, leading to terms such as “yellow fever”. According to Rosalind S. Chou in her book, “Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality”, stereotypical portrayals of Asian Americans which lead to phenomenon's such as yellow fever can be particularly damaging to real life interracial relationships where she writes “it can be difficult to distinguish genuine interest from interest resting on fabricated constructions of an othered person.” South Asian portrayal in cinema often involve "Karma Sutra" type analogies or imagery, an example being white actor Mike Myers and his role as Pitka in the movie "The Love Guru".

Model minority

In The New York Times magazine in January 1966, the term “model minority” was coined by sociologist William Petersen in order to describe Japanese Americans as ethnic minorities who, despite marginalization, have achieved success in the United States. While it was first used to depict Japanese Americans, it has since evolved to characterize Asian Americans in general, specifically East Asians (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and the South Asian community. However, this concept has faced major criticism from the Asian American community. According to Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, "the misperception that Asian Americans are doing fine on their own has serious policy implications...politicians won't talk about our community's needs if they assume people don't require assistance." This stereotype is often portrayed in media, such as television and film. Characters such as George Huang in Law & Order: SVU, Cristina Yang in Grey's Anatomy, and Archie Kao in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation are all examples of this. In addition, in the second edition of her book, Unraveling the Model Minority Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth, Professor Stacy J. Lee argues that the ostensibly sterling stereotype was constructed to silence the charges of racial inequality and to delegitimize the protests of racial discrimination. Bob H. Suzuki also questions the validity of the stereotype, contending that it is only media hype, more myth than reality. Suzuki further argued that, deceptively flattering and favorable on the surface, the model minority stereotype is inaccurate, overgeneralized, and a liability for Asian Americans. The commendation of Asian Americans as a model minority implicitly denigrates other racial groups as well.


Asian Americans in arts and entertainment Wikipedia

Similar Topics
Juan que reía
David Brumbaugh
Veselin Metodiev