Where are the Filipinos in Hollywood?

by alex

Now granted I’m not a Hollywood junkie. I’m not really in the know about who’s acting in what, or whatever. But I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen many Filipino faces in Hollywood and TV (and that’s considering how few Asians there are in general). As a recent AngryAsianMan.com addict I’m starting to pay more attention to the business of asians in popular media.

Now it’s slim pickings for us folk in general, but why are there so much fewer of us Fils specifically to play even the usual roles of convenience store guy, martial arts master, or geeky computer nerd super accountant?

Sure if you google it you’ll find links to such stellar Filipino acting celebrities like Rob Schneider, Tia Carrere, Lou Diamond Phillips (who are half Filipino), Paolo Montalban (who played Kung Lao in the Mortal Kombat move), and Phoebe Cates (who is 1/4 Filipino)…. but is that it?

The last time I remember hearing about Filipinos on TV or the movies was that Desperate Housewives incident, and the doctor in that scene was White!

I saw a list on Wiki but didn’t recognise alot of the names. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs really.

One of the nice things about being at the centre is seeing the folks at Carlos Bulosan Theatre and others create their own projects and doing so well. Congrats again to Nicco for snagging that Dora for Outstanding Performance by a Male.

I don’t think there is a shortage of decent asian actors out there, there just aren’t that many roles (and that’s not even talking about decent roles yet).

So to you people out there that pay more attention to the entertainment industry than I do: what do you think are the main problems? and what can we start doing to fix them?

* * *

Note: The embedded video above is of Chinese-Filipino American spoken word artist Beau Sia. He was born in the Philippines to Chinese parents before migrating to the States. Alot of the work of his that I’ve seen deals with the issues of being Asian in America. I’m a pretty big fan.

~ by alexfelipe on July 22, 2008.

25 Responses to “Where are the Filipinos in Hollywood?”

  1. Beau Sia is awesome!

    My favourite is the piece where he deals with the Asian Male/Small Penis MYTH.

    “until we are brave enough to fling it out and say…..


  2. I posted a note about this on my Facebook and got some comments:

    Commenter: Filipinos in TV and Movies TV Carpio she was in ‘Across the Universe’ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1410258/

    Me: I haven’t seen that movie, got mixed reviews I remember. What did you think? In any case that’s just one more, that doesn’t really improve things by much—and girls are more accepted (it’s that exotic oriental *vomit* thing that’s usually played up there).

    C: It was good, it’s a beatles musical…
    Her character wasn’t really and exotic asian.
    Maybe the demographic isn’t there?

    M: there are 4 million Fils (and millions more Asians in general) in the States. and we’re the 4th largest vis minority in Canada.
    We have the demographics. the answer lies elsewhere.
    Ask yourself: when was the last time you saw an asian man kiss a non-asian woman in a hollywood production? then try to figure out why.

  3. I don’t know about you, but lately, I feel like a lot of Filipinos have been on TV just not for their acting abilities. I think Filipinos in general are more talented in dance or music. Growing up, I was never really impressed by Filipino movies. I find that most Filipinos tend to overact and I find that Rob Schneider does it too. (Btw, you forgot the ‘n’ in Schneider.) However, I do not deny the fact that Filipinos are brilliantly talented in music. I know that you’re talking about Filipinos on TV and in Hollywood but I would like to mention some of those who have been on TV for other reasons. Arnel Pineda (new lead singer of Journey), Charice Pempengco, members of Jabbawockeez, and other Filipino dance crews this year have appeared on TV. Comedian Jo Koy has appeared on Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel Live and is gaining popularity. Many others like APL of the Black Eyed Peas and Enrique Iglesias, can be found on this list

    The one thing I am puzzled about is how few PURE Filipinos are seen on TV. Even when I was in the Philippines I noticed that you can’t really make it big unless you’re half white to give you the extra height and nose.

    Would you believe that the Shangri-La hotel in the Philippines which I was applying for, had a height requirement that would not qualify most Filipino girls. I believe it was 5’6. I’m 5’2 and some people say that’s tall for a Filipino girl. :S

  4. Btw, I did see Across the Universe. I thought it was amazing. I didn’t know the girl was Filipino though.

  5. http://www.filipinosinhollywood.com/index-1.html Check out the Gallery.

  6. More comments from my Facebook note (from the same person). I am glad he left them as I wanted to hear thoughts and opinions:

    I don’t know I’m not a statistician.
    I can’t really break down demographics for you.
    I’m sure one day someone will do the research.
    But us trying to discuss why filipinos aren’t in movies, tv, etc.,
    with what little information we have…
    It’s like trying to paint a broad picture with little paint or few colours.

  7. Leon Aureus, a Fil-Can actor, also left comments:

    have you read my interview in the book “Reel Asian: Asian Canada on Screen” entitled “Men and Monsters” which specifically questions the issue of the lack of representation in NA Film? ugh, man – i’ve talked, written and debated so much on this issue that a part of me is really fatigued by it – but i promise to factor in my thoughts on the KPC blog…just not right now because i’m on the way out to another meeting…i will throw this out as a start though…the roots of colonialism run deep.

    To more immediately address the current thread of – are filipino actors just not good enough? let me leave you (i promise when next i write it will be on the KPC blog) with this fact…

    The Dora Awards – which celebrates excellence in Toronto theatre (think of it as similar to the Tony Awards in NYC) last year nominated Rose Cortez and myself for Best Acting Performances Female and Male respectively (for our roles in the play ‘Singkil’) and this year my boy and fellow co-star Nicco Garcia actually won the award for Best Performance Male for ‘People Power’! Sure it’s not film or tv…but this is an award presented on a broader, community-at-large level. And it’s a start.

    So if the Doras, which can sometimes be accused of being as ‘white’ as you can get in terms socio-political temper can recognize and award Filipino actors…it’s really disappointing to continue to hear those from our own community be so disparaging or simply so quick to throw “not good enough” out as the reason. And I’m not saying that there aren’t bad Filipino actors out there, but there are bad white/black etc. actors too. But when do you hear of Black, Latino or Italian people saying their actors suck, that it’s what Hollywood wants and by that concession, admitting to a lower standing by way of media representation. Those communities and many others rallied around their talent – their directors, their writers, their actors…that’s where names like Coppola, Scorsese>DeNiro, Pacino…Spike Lee, Singleton>Denzel, Will Smith were able to come up. The whole Asian/Filipino community is a little more complex to define and address…but I think there’s no time like now to do so…and it’s happening.

  8. Congratulations on the nomination and to Nicco for winning.
    I’m not saying that all Filipino actors suck but it’s just not often that you’ll run into a good one. And sure there are a lot of black and white actors that suck too and that’s why they’re not on tv. Well some of them are lucky and they do get on. But referring to Alex’s response earlier about “that there [are] statistically more Asians in everyday society than are representing in tv and film.”
    I’ve seen Filipinas as nurses on shows like ER plenty of times. I do think Hollywood is trying to represent asians on tv. So I guess you were saying that even if they do get on tv, it is the way they’re represented that troubles you?
    Sure, some people consider being a nurse on tv as stereotypical but that is the reality. A lot of Filipinos out there are nurses. I guess Filipinos would like to see more actors in more glamorous roles but is that truly representative of who we are?
    So is the issue that there’s not enough Filipinos on tv or that they’re misrepresented?

    I think that if there were more great filipino actors, there would be more seen on tv or in films. In music, many are doing well because of their talent and it has nothing to do with their looks or being asian. If Charice Pempengco was Indian, I think she would still get the same amount of coverage. I’m sure there are a few great Filipino actors such as Leon, Nicco, and Rose but my point is simply that there aren’t enough and that is the reason why there aren’t enough Filipinos on tv. I also believe that talent must be a big part of why things are the way it is.

  9. I ran into this blog a couple days ago,


    Thought it would be an interesting read. Sadly I only know that Filipino Actors in Hollywood movies through google, or her blog.

    Oh, thier is a wrestler under the name Batista, who’s half Greek and Filipino. Kinda scary looking, but one to add to the list of famous Filipino’s I guess?

  10. ahahha. Alex, I just HAVE TO edit that last bit. ” I also believe that talent must be a big part of why things are the way THEY ARE.”

  11. Prin left another comment on Facebook saying bluntly that the reason that there are so few asian actor onscreen is because there aren’t enough talented asian actors.


    I have questions for you to consider:
    Who’s stories are being told on TV and movies?
    Who controls what stories are told and who will tell them?
    What good is a talented actor when there are no roles for them?
    What becomes of talented actors when the roles offered require little talent or a degradation of themselves and their culture?

    Remember that actors fill roles. If there are no roles calling for Asian actors, or the roles are poor, then what become of the ‘few’ talented Asians?

    Often that means they have to quit acting (that or not eat). So the talent pool diminishes. Unlike performance arts like singers (who can perform their own work), actors rely on having roles to play.

    And well, the thought presented is a little insulting Prin. Basically you’re saying that Asians (and this included the millions raised in the West) simply don’t know how to perform? That somehow we have some sort of cultural or genetic tick that makes us overact? Simply put, that’s racist.

    You yourself point out that many Asians are starting to represent in other creative forms (eg. in music and dance). How do you think it’s possible for an entire community could be good at one but be incompetent in another?

    Moreover, take the black community as another cultural example. Black male leads have historically been rare. Are you going to say that that’s because they’re simply not good enough to be a lead? Or do you think there could possibly be a simpler answer?

    ***Thanks for putting this discussion on the blog Princess! I think it’s really important for our community to discuss these sorts of issues. What did you think of Leon’s comments?

  12. “So is the issue that there’s not enough Filipinos on tv or that they’re misrepresented?”


    There are less Fils/Asians on tv than in the general population. And they are often shown in non-speaking or minor supporting roles. And I have no probs with Fils being portrayed as nurses or caregivers or whatever, but don’t ONLY show that, we’re more than that. And let them act, not just be there to hand some white doctor a scalpel.

  13. First of all, I applaud you on that brilliant answer. However, being called a racist did hurt. That certainly was not my intention. I do understand what you’re saying and I appreciate you opening my eyes to this. If you had noticed, I did erase that comment because I realized that I posted it prematurely. I do apologize if I came off racist. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so general but that is how I felt at the time (even if it was just a couple hours ago.)

    You said that there aren’t any roles for good Filipino actors to fill. So then make them. When Goldie Hawn was tired of roles that depicted her as a ditsy blonde, she made new roles for herself. She became a producer and acted in her own films. She didn’t quit or starve. There are other options. You don’t always have to take what’s given to you. If there are no roles good enough for our talented actors, then they should make some.

    And I didn’t mean to say that I think ALL Filipinos suck at acting. What I meant to say is that few are really good.

  14. no, no Prin, I didn’t call you racist, I called the idea presented racist. And I meant it when I said that I really appreciate your putting yourself and opinions out in public. It’s very important!

    And to let you know, I felt the same when I was younger. Hell, I voted Reform Party in my first elections!!!! So please don’t think that I ever thought you were racist. And I do apologise for any misunderstanding.

    As for your last comment about making roles: what do you think we’re up to at the KPC? Carlos Bulosan Theatre wrote and presented “People Power” which won Nicco the Dora. And KPC’ers wrote “Baggage” which got great reviews for the Fringe. And then there’s FuGen and others. And we’ve got people making TV and behind the scenes at Much and MTV!

    So HELL YEAH!!! If they won’t write us in, we’ll do it ourselves!!!!

  15. Filipino’s are slowly but surely making their presence and their mark in Hollywood and North American TV. It has been a long road and difficult road of ignorance and type-casting. Filipino actors/actresses play great visible minorities. If not for Rob Schneider, would bibingka make it in a hollywood movie? All be it, a comedy…but still making it into the script of a hollywood movie. It is something.

    If there will be a hollywood movie, it would most likely be based on the story of Manny Pacquio. Easily marketable and already a household name.

  16. I don’t know about how positive Rob has been for our community. He always allows himself to play an ass or make asians into a joke. take this fine example: http://www.angryasianman.com/2007/07/extra-extra-yellowface.html

  17. well, I think this — coming from someone working in tv, and having been ON tv *yuck, i cringe*, also having been fortunate to have been able to act on stage…

    The reason why Filipinos aren’t on TV is because Filipinos aren’t behind TV — that is, we’re not writing/producing/directing enough stories that represent us RIGHT on tv.

    I think the rare times that you see a Filipino represent him or herself RIGHT on tv or film, that is the moment of brilliance that flirts with mainstream recognition. ie – Ron Josol doing comedy is a Filipino guy doing Filipino comedy… or Apl De Ap is singing Bebot and not caring whether white or black people know what that means, that’s brilliant. JaBBaWocKeeZ is brilliant because they are doing what they’ve always done.

    When I think of the times that I’ve seen Filipinos represent acting-wise on screen, I get sadder — because those times have been rare and far-between. However, the times that stand out for me are the ones when there was a Filipino team behind the scenes making it possible for the Filipino actor to let loose. Say what you will about The Debut, but I bet you that was a bang-on representation of Filipino life in SoCal.

    Not to pat the home team on the back either, but for me, a shining moment was Caroline Mangosing in St. Jamestown talking to Steve Comilang on national TV in Tagalog (with english subtitles). Viewers need to see us through OUR eyes and not through theirs, and that’s when we’ll be at our honest best.

    People still approach me after all these years to say FLIP TV was awesome. I still think its because it was presented with no apologies at all toward being Filipino, it wasn’t part of some diversity-quota or affirmative action television… we were brown and proud, we let it all hang out.

    The times we shine are when we’re not afraid to create from top to bottom, from script to screen or stage. (look at People Power. Or Baggage. 😉 )

    It’s like when you’re trying to tell someone else’s story — the meaning gets lost in translation.

  18. Hey Alex

    haha Rob Schneider may not be a good representation of Filipino acting, but I doubt he’s trying to be.

    The use of bibingka is probably more of him trying maintain a piece of identity, knowing he’s been swallowed up by the Hollywood machine. Sort of like an easter egg for the people. In that way, it’s commendable.

    Plus, Filipino baked delicacies too, do not get enough exposure to the mainstream.

  19. Playwrite/Actor/all round creative person Catherine Hernandez writes:

    I think it’s imperative to not expect mass media to represent us. If we leave it to people outside our culture to include us, it would simply be us filling in the role of the exotic sex symbol (looking in Tia Carrere’s general direction). The solution? Remove the filter. As in remove the white gaze and create work that is in our own voices for our own people. Create work regularly, hire people within our community and challenge ourselves as artists to be better with every draft.

    Other ways that I try to cultivate exposure for our culture include:

    1)Cultivating or contributing to a healthy artist community such as the Kapisanan

    2)Supporting the work of our fellow artists by attending events and spreading the word about events

    3)Supporting the work of artists who are also part of the “brown caucus”, who have similar struggles and sharing ideas, challenging each other to become better artists

    4)Speaking out about work that we deem insulting towards our culture. Engage in discussion with those artists who have offended us.

    5)challenge our own thoughts about our own culture. Do we respect our women? Our queer culture? Do we respect each other enough to give constructive feedback?

    Just some thoughts.



  20. Actor Regina Simon writes:

    Well, personally, I think a lot of Filipino actors get overlooked with roles because we, as a culture and as a people, have not really fully developed our “identity” within mainstream Hollywood. We’re too chameleon… I have friends who get casted in films as every other Asian other than Filipino. It’s really a sad state of affairs!

    That’s why organizations like Carlos Bulosan, Kapisanan, etc. are very important. For us to make an impact in the mainstream industry, we have to showcase our identity… which sadly, and to be quite brutally honest, I’ve observed that we as a people are almost ashamed of! The many years of colonialism has made us even ashamed of the color of our skin!

    I mean, look at our own shows from the Philippines? The tv personalities in the shows and teleseryes in the Filipino channel? Who are making waves in the mainstream Filipino media? Pretty little young Filipinos with mixed descent, and some of them are “imported” from other countries. Heck, some of them are not even Filipinos at all!

    You don’t need to look further from our backyard to realize that our community doesn’t really support our own stuff very much (unless it’s a singing contest, or a beauty contest, or some contest that would import you to the Philippines for a chance to become an actor or celebrity).

    As a personal observation, when Carlos Bulosan presented the excellent Dora Award Nominated “People Power” in the spring… I volunteered for 3 shows, who did I observe to be the main attendees in most of those days?


    You read it right, I saw more white people coming in to watch and enjoy the play than members of our own community. The only Filipinos who came are either friends of the actors, or activists who had genuine interest in the subject of the play, and regular patrons of the CBT Collective. Even after advertising this in my radio show, and spreading the word to all our local Filipino community media (we have so many Filipino community newspapers)… Aside from the local mainstream media, did any of our Filipino newspapers come forward to cover the show? Did any of the members of the Filipino community come simply they heard it on the radio or read about it from the Toronto Star? Perhaps a handful…

    But I know for sure that the Filipinos I personally I invited to come to watch out story on the Canadian stage, politely said yes… but never did. Coming up with various excuses about sudden family engagements, or not being able to afford tickets, etc… But ironically, these same people wouldn’t think twice about shelling out $100 and booking their schedule many months ahead of time to make sure they catch a Mirvish Production… like say, “The Sound of Music”?

    We Filipinos are a funny bunch, aren’t we?

  21. On the flipside (no pun intended), let’s also remember how tough it is to work for a living inside the TV/Film industry and not have the opportunity to change things.

    Some of us struggle with that every day too — the mild undertones of “selling-out” are the demons that haunt any successful, yet frustrated but creative Filipino artist that also has to put food on the table and work.

  22. The lack of representation of Filipinos in mainstream media is a really complex one. There’s the worship of American ideals + cultural residue of Colonial Spain + our mestissa/mestisso worship; is there even such a thing as “pure Filipino” anyway? I’m not even going to try that one. However, in terms of diversity in media, it is clear that all TV audiences, regardless of ethno-cultural category, expect to see diversity on TV. If the goal of a TV series is to represent contemporary Toronto or Vancouver, then the story — to be understood as contemporary and relevant — must reflect contemporary Toronto or Vancouver. The lead cast must therefore reflect the visible diversity of Canada. Otherwise, it reads as dated or unbelievable (as much as I enjoy watching “Friends”, it does feel like you’re watching an older era). The biggest challenge the TV industry faces is the ratings system. This is the juggernaut. At the core of success of anything on TV is ratings. However, it’s a known fact that in Canada, East Asians (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.), South Asians and South East Asians are under-represented in the ratings system. So even if the entire Asian Canadian audience watched Dragon Boys on CBC, for example, what is predominantly being counted are the eyeballs of white Canadians. This is also the case in the US with American-born Latinos. Until the system is reformed, that is the industry reality we work with. Subsequently, it not as simple as creating programs that Asian Canadians want to watch. The challenge that diverse writers have is creating productions that clearly reflect contemporary diversity, but are also equally accessible to all of the “traditional” white audiences. It can be done: Little Mosque on the Prairie, and Grey’s Anatomy, and look at the new series that I’m hooked on (no pun intended), The Cleaner. I’m with Leon on this. We’ve been angry about this issue for far too long. What’s really needed are freakin’ awesome diverse writers, who can write for the audiences that are being counted, and intelligently reflect the diversity of contemporary Canada so that all Canadians feel like they count. Things are improving (Harold and Kumar), but yes, we have a long way to go. As a community, we need to also make a shift in how we address this issue: from a voice of anger and complaint, to a real dialogue about what needs to happen to change things. Asian Canadians are no longer on the fringes of the mainstream collective. We are at the heart of cultural innovation in Canada. With that, we have to more overtly understand that as a generation, we are not defined by our ancestry or ethnicity, but creatively informed by it. That was the impetus for launching Schema and schemamag.ca. So much out there seems to position Asian Canadians like they still exist outside of the cultural milieu of Canada, like they can’t be an authority on anything else by Asian Canadian identity. That’s ridiculous. We are experts on Canadian identity and culture, especially in today’s Canada. We need to speak from the position of centre, take ownership of that place, and influence change from there. That’s my vision of Canada anyway. So when we see that the movie version of Dragon Ball is being cast with a white lead, which makes no sense at all, we can confidently say it’s gonna suck. Not from the fringes, but as the voice of New Canada.

  23. As a young Filipino artist, I am very thankful to be surrounded by passionate Filipino actors, artists and activists. These Filipinos inspire me to create and be who I am off and on stage. These are the same people who write stories about our present and past experiences as Filipinos. For example, you probably know that there are non-Filipinos who are interested and curious to know about who we are…so why not show and tell them so that they can learn. So that when they see Filipinos on stage (like plays such as: People Power, Baggage, Singki) they can relate to that time when we first told them. This is one of the “fixes” to this problem we face. Once we’ve unmask this “culture shame” our work as artists will shine without even knowing. I took theatre at York University and I remember being in 3rd year and my acting teacher told me to say the words in Tagalog to my scene partner. I did it and what surprised me the most was that I understood my intentions more because I said the words in Tagalog. When I had to say the words back in English, I felt more grounded because I can connect MYSELF in those words ( instead of saying the “idea” of the words). Now,I speak Tagalog fluently because I came here when I was 13…and I know that as an actor there are different ways of “being” on stage or film and this is just an example of that. But I just showed them that this is who I am and this is what you’re gonna get from me; me being Filipino on stage or tv. I am so happy to be always working for Carlos Bulosan Theatre, Kapisanan Philippine Centre and Fugen Theatre because they help us young Filipino artists, to write and tell about our stories.

    The reason why I am saying all of this to you is for you to understand what I’m experiencing as an actor here in Canada. To fix this problem of “us” not being seen is really for us to keep creating and writing no matter what. Starving as an artist or not starving I keep my passion alive, because this is what keeps me breathing everyday. The reason why I am so motivated to be an actor is because I am surrounded with so many passionate and supportive Filipino artists that if we all have this great energy; we can collectively change the mainstream media. Especially our generation, because who doesn’t have a FILIPINO friend? The mainstream media’s slowly slowly getting there because I have auditioned for that character…the Filipino friend…so it’s there; we just have to simply wait!

  24. Here’s a small bright note. A full Filipino that isn’t well known but making some steady noise. Check out Allen Evangelista. He’s been on hit shows like Zoey 101, Sarah Connor Chronicles, and currently on the very popular “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”. These aren’t small guest spots either. You can catch him every week. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1570766/
    I think there are a good amount of us out there. Just need to know where to look.

  25. There’s a Filipino born actor in Australia that’s apparently making a name for himself.
    His name is FELINO DOLLOSO, he worked with the late Heath Ledger in “Candy” and has been cast in a support role in soon to be made Hollywood film “Point Break 2”.
    Dolloso apparently has just finished two feature films in Australia as well playing Lead roles.
    I found some links on his work in youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EJ-xQkX6OE

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