6 Badass American Asian Creatives to Know

Img Source - Vanity Fair

The entertainment industry has been fighting battles over diversity for decades. It’s only over the past few years that Hollywood has embraced anything other than waif-like, blonde, blue-eyed starlets and tall, dark, and handsome men. Through hard work, dedication and re-education, minority actors and creatives have taken the industry by storm.

One such group is Asian Americans. While key players, like Lucy Liu, have been respected household names for some time, dozens of lesser-known Asian creatives are now managing to break through and share their gifts with the world.

Here’s a list of six badass American Asian creatives you need to keep on your radar.

1. Steven Yeun

Steven Yeun is best known for his role as Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead. His renowned acting work has helped to significantly increase awareness around the lack of Asian American representation in film and media. In 2020, the actor received the honor of being the first Asian American Best Actor nominee, for his role in the Korean immigration narrative Minari. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he noted, “it’s cool that we get to establish new ground and that young Asian American kids can feel like this is possible for them, too.”

However, Yeun also explained that being a trailblazer is not without problems. By being such a prominent figure in the industry, he often worries that he’ll be seen as an ‘Asian American Actor’ first and ‘actor’ second.

In 2023, Yeun continues to build a strong profile in Hollywood, even making the list of Gold House’s Asian Pacific leaders who have significantly impacted American culture in the past year.

2. Michelle Zauner

Author Michelle Zauner is a Korean American singer and guitarist who originally achieved fame for her musical contributions to the band Japanese Breakfast. However, it was her touching 2021 memoir, Crying in H Mart, that truly catapulted her into the American consciousness. 

In her breakthrough memoir, 34-year-old Zauner explores themes of grief, displacement, family, and culture. Though her work will especially resonate with first- and second-generation immigrants, the touching memoir also offers a gripping look into another world for those of us who have never experienced the challenge of balancing two unique cultures. The book debuted at number two on The New York Times best-seller list and has continued to enjoy significant popularity ever since.

Michelle Zauner openly discusses her battle with depression and struggle to find her place in the world. Her resilience and transparency make ‘badass’ a very appropriate title for this Asian creative.

3. Calvin Eng

Born in Brooklyn, Calvin Eng is not a singer, songwriter or actor. His creativity belongs to a different medium: cooking. Now owner of the critically acclaimed kitchen Bonnie’s, Eng was raised on his mother’s Cantonese home cooking. Her food made such an impression on him that his now highly booked restaurant, Bonnie, even bears her American name.

Eng sees cooking as a way to celebrate his blended cultural heritage, honoring both his Asian and American roots. Through his soulful fusion of food, he takes his customers on a fascinating culinary journey that will leave you wanting more.  Calvin Eng is another strong example of a determined AAPI creative paving the way for greater equality and representation for Asian Americans.

4. Dolly Ave

Vietnamese American artist Dolly Ave is an up-and-coming singer song-writer raised in Missouri. With her debut album not due to be released until July, not a lot is known about this striking creative figure. However, Rolling Stone refers to her music as ‘genre-defying’, noting that it pairs elements of rock, pop, R&B, soul, and electronica to produce a whole new sound. 

In preliminary interviews, Dolly has hinted that her stifling upbringing in a small, predominantly white town has heavily influenced her work. She explained to Rolling Stone that she wants to inspire others from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds, stating “I want someone […] to be inspired knowing that I too started my career with a webcam, a dream and no real music experience.”

5. Susan Chen

Susan Chen is an American artist who was born to Chinese parents and raised between Hong Kong and the UK. On her personal website, she describes herself as a creator seeking the meaning of the word home and this diasporic thread runs through all her work. During her early career she specialized in landscape painting, but it was her portraiture that gained her commercial acclaim. One poignant piece, MFA: Pay to Play, depicts Chen herself graduating from Columbia University, grasping her paintbrush. She highlights her displacement by replacing her dark hair with blonde locks in a nod to the pressures of assimilation. 

In interviews, Chen has spoken boldly about the limitations of art education in the west, explaining that the university curriculum typically explores art history through a predominantly Eurocentric lens. “Work is meant to look a certain way … to be accepted as good art in the market,” she lamented, in a recent interview with Artsy.net.  

Susan Chen continues to challenge the status quo through her work and the conversations she provokes within the traditionally prescriptive art world.

6. Ali Wong

Ali Wong is an Asian American writer and comedian who has been honing her craft since the age of 23. Despite being named one of Variety’s ‘10 Comics to Watch’ back in 2011 and subsequent recurring appearances on NBC comedy series Are You There, Chelsea, it wasn’t until her Netflix stand-up special Baby Cobra dropped in 2016 that Ali became a true household name. She has since released two additional Netflix specials to a warm reception.

Behind the laughs, Wong has fought to preserve her culture. Born to a Chinese father and Vietnamese mother, Wong has discussed being profoundly aware of her mother’s lack of cultural pride, attributing it to coming to the US alone and being pressured to assimilate. To preserve and elevate her mother’s history and unlock her own, Wong made it her mission to learn Vietnamese, majoring in Asian-American Studies at the University of California and even studying abroad in Hanoi. 

Through adversity, Ali Wong has remained true to her heritage and proudly campaigned for cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

The six badass Asian creatives listed above deserve to be celebrated, but not just for their outstanding performance in their chosen fields. They also deserve recognition for breaking down barriers and increasing AAPI representation in the entertainment industry.

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