While Hollywood’s under-representation -- and misrepresentation of Asians -- is well-documented, we’re glad to see that Asian Americans cast in dynamic, textured roles that don’t rely on stereotypes. Recently, the half-Vietnamese Maggie Q has been praised for playing tough-as-nails characters, from the assassin in the CW’s “Nikita” to her role in “Divergent” to her current role in CBS’ “Stalker.” The Indian-American Kal Penn has catapulted from “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” to “The Namesake” to a real-life role in the White House. Other stars -- John Cho, Zhang Ziyi, Aziz Ansari, Ken Jeong, Mindy Kaling, Masi Oka, Daniel Dae Kim -- have created great visibility for Asians in American pop culture.
In American music, however, the picture is somewhat bleaker: the most memorable pop songs on American charts have been relegated to novelty hits. (See: Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and William Hung of “American Idol.")
We’ve partnered with Toyota Camry to highlight international artists who are making bold statements in the States. Here’s to seeing much, much more of these artists in the future.
1. Rinko Kikuchi
Following her 2006 role as a deaf-mute teenage girl in “Babel,” Rinko Kikuchi became the first Japanese actress to be nominated for an Oscar in nearly 50 years.* (Director Alejandro González Iñárritu still says she was “robbed.”) More recently, she starred opposite Charlie Hunnam in last year’s Guillermo del Toro film “Pacific Rim,” kicking major monster butt.
Here’s what Kikuchi told The Japan Times about the difficulties of finding work in the States:
I’ve been told it’s because Japanese actresses look weak and diluted on celluloid — they’re often uncomfortable about coming on strong and to really make the appeal. I guess that’s true . . . after all, it’s part of our culture to value excessive modesty, right? But I’m more motivated. I do this [acting] as a living, and it’s the only thing I can do. I want to give my best shot to every job that comes my way.
2. Agnez Mo
R&B/pop artist, Indonesia
Agnez Mo (nee Agnes Monica) released her self-titled English-language debut last year. Her first international single, “Coke Bottle,” features Timbaland’s signature beats, a guest verse by T.I. and a whole lot of swagger from Miss Agnez. While her crossover success is rather recent, she’s no stranger to showbiz: she came out with her first album when she was 6 years old and has won 83 major awards in Indonesia.
3. Fan Bingbing
Fan Binbing is a certified superstar and style icon in China, grabbing the No. 1 spot on Forbes China’s Celebrity List just a few months ago. Recently, she was introduced to American audiences as Blink, the teleporting mutant in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” She is slated to appear in four more X-Men films.
4. Irrfan Khan
You know you’re famous when you’re frequently relegated to one name: Irrfan. Hailing from Jaipur, India, Khan is an award-winning actor in Bollywood who starred as a police officer in the 2005 Hindi-language hit “Rog.” In the States, he’s best known as the police officer who interrogated Dev Patel’s Jamal in “Slumdog Millionaire” (2009), as the father of Kal Penn’s Gogol in “The Namesake” (2007), and the adult Pi in “Life of Pi” (2012), among credits in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “New York, I Love You” and “The Darjeeling Limited.” In 2015, we’ll see him in long-awaited “Jurassic World” as the owner of the dinosaur park.
Another one-name wonder, Yuna is a Malaysian pop star who made a splash with last year’s LP, “Nocturnal." Hailing from Kuala Lumpur, Yuna has recently worked with Pharrell on the coolly soulful “Live Your Life” and offered a richly textured, a capella take on Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” ... to the tune of millions of YouTube views. Here at HuffPost, we’ve already named her as an artist to watch. We can’t wait to see what she does next!
6. Park Chan-wook
Director, South Korea
Park Chan-wook, a native of Seoul, has found both commercial and critical success in his home country. He’s perhaps best known for “Oldboy,” the arty revenge film that made a splash at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, netting a Grand Prix award and Palme d’Or nomination. Last year, he directed his first English-language feature, “Stoker.” Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it a “darkly funny, deliciously depraved riff on Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’” and praised the performances from Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman.
7. Ruby Ibarra
Rapper, Bay Area (by way of The Philippines)
Hip-hop artist Ruby Ibarra, born in the Philippines and raised in the Bay Area, brings electric energy and lyricism to every performance and cites Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco as influences.
"I definitely try to incorporate a lot of cultural history — my background is Filipino — into my spoken word and music,” she told Mic. “A lot of those themes are overlooked in mainstream media and I feel it's important to include that in my music as well.”
8. Song Kang-ho
Actor, South Korea
Song Kang-ho may be familiar to international audiences given his role in Bong Joon-ho’s crime drama “Memories of Murder” (2003) and especially “The Host” (2006), a wickedly twisted and suspenseful monster movie that became the highest-grossing South Korean film of all time. More recently, he starred in Bong’s critically acclaimed “Snowpiercer” alongside international stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer.
CORRECTION: An original version of this post indicated that Rinko Kikuchi was the first Japanese actress to be nominated for an Oscar. This honor actually belongs to Miyoshi Umeki, who won the award for best supporting actress in 1957.