Notable Asian American Entertainers of 2014

APA actors, directors and media makers who made waves this year.

From Emmy award-winning directors to iconic actors to unconventional game show champions and a YouTube star, 2014 was a good year for Asian Americans in entertainment. Each year, the APA community take strides in getting into the spotlight for great work. Over the years, we’ve seen trailblazers like Pat Morita and Margaret Cho kick down the door to prove that there is a place for APA actors, directors and media makers.

In addition to some veterans who added more accolades to their resume in 2014, we make room for some up-and-comers who have finally received the mainstream spotlight to share with peers like Aziz Ansari, John Cho, Mindy Kaling and Lucy Liu. (Also: Check out CAAM’s Year in Interviews featuring John Cho, Arden Cho, Grace Lee, Lisa Ling and more).

Dino-Ray Ramos

Michelle Phan: With her endless arsenal of makeup and beauty tips and demos, Michelle Phan’s YouTube channel has over 7 million subscribers and over 300 videos (and counting). Her YouTube fame eventually led to her own L’Oreal cosmetics line called em by Michelle Phan as well as her own book, Make Up: Your Life Guide to Beauty, Style, and Success – Online and Off which was released in October. Now, she is branching out from beauty and expanding to fashion with three new web series for the For All Women Network (FAWN) and Endemol Beyond which include a show about current trends in beauty, style, tech, and entertainment (Trend Report); a series about the style of influential women (Fascinating Women); and the history of fashion trends (Look #TBT). (Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan Photography).

Justin Lin: Ever since Better Luck Tomorrow, director Justin Lin has been on a steady incline of directing power. He has commandeered the Fast and the Furious franchise to legendary status and this year, he sat in the director’s and executive producer’s chair for the computer-hacking drama series, Scorpion. He also was poached to direct the next installment of HBO’s acclaimed True Detective series. And most recently, he’s been tapped to direct Star Trek 3.

Hari Kondabolu: Hari Kondabolu stood out from the pack of talented comedians that the APA community churned out this year. Laced with his social and political wit, his comedy made its way through the late-night talk show circuit, a correspondent spot on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, and this year, he took the coveted stand-up spotlight on The Late Show With David Letterman, which coincided with the release of his first stand-up album, Waiting for 2042.

Marissa Aroy.

Marissa Aroy: Having won an Emmy for her documentary Sikhs in America, producer and director Marissa Aroy went on to do accomplish even more in filmmaking with an Asian American perspective. Specifically with her Filipino American heritage. Some of her projects have included Grand Cafe and Little Manila but this year, she impressed the masses with her documentary The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers, which focuses on labor organizer Larry Itliong and how he led a group of Filipino farm workers to strike, which eventually resulted in one of the most historic American farm labor movements: The Delano Grape Strike of 1965. Aroy’s film honors a piece history that’s not often known or recognized. (The film was supported by CAAM’s Media Fund).

Randall ParkRandall Park has a commendable career in movies and television. His roles have ranged from small yet substantial roles (NeighborsThe Five Year Engagement) to recurring parts on sitcoms (Veep, The Mindy Project). Now, Park is climbing further up the Hollywood ladder with his role as Kim Jong-Un in the controversial Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview and as young Eddie Huang’s dad in the forthcoming ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.

Hollis: In Seattle, Hollis Wong-Wear was neck-deep in the local poetry slam scene and was a prominent up-and-coming performer. Still keeping her poetic grounding, Hollis opened the door to the music world where she became a singer-songwriter. Through the network of Seattle musicians she eventually met Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and collaborated with them on their single “White Walls.” She teamed up with them again on “The Heist,” which earned her a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year in 2014. She jams with her band, the Flavr Blue.

Jeopardy!'s Tournament of Champions.
Jeopardy!’s Tournament of Champions.

Arthur Chu: Jeopardy! contestant Arthur Chu gained a lot of fans—and enemies—for his unusual playing style that had him hopping all over the Jeopardy! board like a strategic mad man instead of doing it the typical method of choosing clues in a sequential order. His style was met with a lot of criticism, but whatever he did worked. He won 11 games in a row, making him the fourth highest-earning champion in non-tournament gameplay. As an added bonus, he took 2nd place in the 2014 tournament of champions. Chu’s also been weighing in on some serious social issues via articles and on Twitter.

Rohan Chand: You may recognize Rohan Chand from his small roles in Showtime’s Homeland and the movie Lone Survivor, but it was his role in the R-rated comedy Bad Words as a sweet and sheltered spelling bee prodigy that befriends a foul-mouthed mentor played by Jason Bateman that was his breakthrough performance for 2014. The film didn’t exactly get five star reviews across the board, but it put more attention on Chand. Next up for the young Serkis’s Jungle Book: Origins.

Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe: Speaking of spelling bees, there’s something about actual watching a spelling bee that is as fascinating and edge-of-your-seat thrilling as watching the Super Bowl. This year people were glued to their TV sets as Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe duked it out for the crown but all of it ended in a tie when the competition ran out of words to spell…seriously.

Ming-na Wen. Photo credit: Florian Schneider/ABC.
Ming-na Wen. Photo credit: Florian Schneider/ABC.

Ming-na Wen and Chloe Bennet: 2014 saw no shortage when it came to superhero-branded entertainment. Actors Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennet have been seeing plenty of growth with their characters Melinda May and Skye on Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Badass S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot May (Wen) has been fighting a clone version of herself and Skye (Bennet) has learned that she is more than just an ordinary girl. The Marvel movie-to-TV crossover action/drama has proven itself worthy with Joss Whedon sensibilities.

Kumail Nanjiani: From bit parts in movies and TV shows to podcasts, stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani has a sense of humor that comedy nerds have been eating up for years. His role as Dinesh in the tech geek HBO comedy Silicon Valley has given everyone the opportunity to witness his comedic prowess.

Jose Antonio Vargas: Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas caused waves in the media when he came out as an undocumented immigrant in an essay for The New York Times Magazine. He immediately became the go-to guy and unofficial leader for immigration reform. His undocumented life became the topic of his critically acclaimed film Documented, which premiered on CNN and in theaters in June.

Steven Yeun: Every season, we sit on the edge of our seat waiting for which character on The Walking Dead will meet their doom. That said, it’s nice to see that Steven Yeun is still employed by the undead show with a rabid fanbase. Yeun’s character Glenn has been through the ringer and in five season he has grown from a naïve, skittish boy to a leader, zombie killing machine and fan favorite.

Cary Fukunaga: For a little over a decade, director/writer Cary Fukunaga has been modestly creating beautiful films such as Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre. But it wasn’t until he received an Emmy for his brilliant work for directing HBO’s first season of True Detective that he caught the attention of TV audiences. With his distinct eye for visually poetic storytelling, Fukunaga’s grimy and thought provoking murder mystery starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson immediately hooked audiences and gave him the recognition he deserves.

George Take in "To Be Takei."
George Take in “To Be Takei.”

George Takei: Without a doubt, George Takei is a social media star with his clever musings and memes on Facebook and Twitter, but in this year’s Jennifer Kroot-directed documentary To Be Takei, we received an in-depth look at his trailblazing life as one of the first Asian American actors, his iconic role as Sulu on Star Trek, and his experience in a Japanese internment camp to his role as a gay activist. The film made “Uncle George” more than just a hashtag.

This post is made possible by Comcast and XFINITY Asia. This is an edited version that was published at Comcast XFINITY Asia.

Main image: YouTube makeup artist Michelle Phan. Photo by Stefanie Keenan Photography.

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