On September 17, 2017, Riz Ahmed became the first South Asian and Muslim actor to win an Emmy for his acting performance in HBO’s The Night Of. It is hard to believe that after 69 shows put up by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, people are only now witnessing this groundbreaking first.
Hollywood’s lack of diversity has been well-documented over recent years with several performers calling for a change. The issue was put on blast during 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy and resulted in a number of filmmakers and actors actually boycotting the show. “Whitewashing” hasn’t helped Hollywood productions either, films like Ghost in the Shell, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Power Rangers received a huge amount of backlash for their casting choices. The outcome was poor box office returns and critics publicly slamming these films.
The film and television industry is slowly making up for these mistakes by putting more actors of color in the spotlight. While diversity in Hollywood continues to face a long and uphill battle, here are five Asian actors that are leading the pack.
5 Asian Actors Bringing Diversity to Hollywood
1. Ki Hong Lee
South Korean actor Ki-hong Lee rose to prominence thanks to a scene-stealing performance in The Maze Runner films. His role as Minho happened to be his big-screen debut as well. At first glance, you’ll immediately know that the character isn’t your typical Hollywood stereotype for Asians. Minho is the leader of the Runners, he is stubborn yet brave in his mission to bring his brothers out of the Maze. Lee is the perfect actor for the role, he manages to work his natural charm to allow the audience to root for Minho.
Lee will reprise his role in the third and final installment, The Death Cure, due in 2018.
2. Steve Yeun
Steven Yeun is of South Korean–American descent. The actor developed his acting skills by studying improvisational theater. His biggest role to date was in the horror drama The Walking Dead where he played Glenn Rhee. Yeun was one of the original cast members of the show but had to leave after his character was killed off. After his departure, The Walking Dead has never been the same.
Yeun has done a lot of roles after his stint on prime-time television, but it would be nice to see him in a leading role for a change. Among his most recent and upcoming projects are Okja, Chew, and Sorry to Bother You.
3. Constance Wu
Constance Wu is a Taiwanese-American actress best known for her role as Jessica Huang in the ABC comedy series Fresh Off the Boat. After receiving critical acclaim for her performance on the show, E! named her a breakthrough star of the year. In 2017, Wu was named one of Time magazine’s 100 People Who Help Shape the World. Next on her list? A lead role in the upcoming Warner Brothers film Crazy Rich Asians based on the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan.
4. Dev Patel
British-Indian actor Dev Patel made his screen debut in the teen drama series Skins. The young Brit managed to land the role despite having no professional acting experience. When the show ended, Patel captivated the world with his critically acclaimed portrayal of Jamal Malik in director Danny Boyle‘s 2008 drama film Slumdog Millionaire. His touching performance helped the film win an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Patel himself earned a BAFTA Award for Best Actor nomination as well as a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role nomination.
In 2016, Patel found himself on the awards circuit once again with the movie Lion. He received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Saroo Brierley. Fans can catch Patel next year in Hotel Mumbai, a film based on the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
5. Riz Ahmed
Riz Ahmed has been doing films since 2006, from then on, he has quietly pursued his passion for acting, music, and cultural diversity. Despite having more than a decade’s experience in the industry, Ahmed’s hard work was finally given recognition in this year’s Emmy Awards. The Night Of‘s Nasir “Naz” Khan was a role literally written for Ahmed. He gives an honest portrayal of a character who is forced to go behind bars for a crime that has nothing but circumstantial evidence. It is a clear jab on the issues that many people of color are going through today.
After a triumphant Emmy win, Ahmed is bound to go far in his career. He is rumored to star in an upcoming Marvel film and was recently cast alongside Joaquin Phoenix in the dark comedy The Sisters Brothers.