As Filipino American History Month 2014 comes to a close, here's a list of Fil-Ams making history as media makers. Compiled by Dino-Ray Ramos of the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), this list was first posted in CAAM's blog at caamedia.org.
If you know someone who should be part of this list, please send a message to CAAM at their website.
In 1991, the Seattle-based Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) decided to name the month of October as Filipino American History Month—and it wasn’t just a random month that the FANHS drew out of a hat. The month commemorates the first documented Filipinos to land on what is now known as the United States.
Over 20 years later, we continue to celebrate the Filipino history and culture in the United States. From science to politics to entertainment, the accomplishments of Filipino Americans and what they have contributed to society have been great and continue to grow.
As many of you may or may not know, there are plenty of Filipino Americans in media and every time one appears in the media, we (yes, I am of Filipino descent) tend to get super excited. Sometimes more excited than we need to be. But why shouldn’t celebrate our brothers and sisters? We are incredibly supportive of them, not unlike an obsessive stage parent.
During the month of October, our praise for our fellow Filipino Americans tends to go off the charts, particularly in the world of entertainment and media. You’ll find many people making lists and singing odes to prominent Fil-Am stars like Bruno Mars, Rob Schneider, Lea Salonga, Jokoy, Charice, Dante Basco, and Vanessa Hudgens. Don’t get me wrong, these celebrities are great and talented, but there’s always room in the spotlight for other artists and personalities. Here is the Center for Asian American Media's (CAAM) list of some Fil-Am media makers who you may or may not have heard of that deserve your attention during Filipino American History Month—and beyond.
Jerell Rosales: In 2012, Jerell Rosales’ film Born to Dance This Way won the Director’s Spotlight Award and the award for Best Editing during the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Festival. His film premiered at the Director’s Guild of America during the Director’s Showcase which has been a platform for the earlier works big-time directors like Alexander Payne, Gore Verbinski and Justin Lin. His current short film, "No, No, Homo" is making its festival rounds and his upcoming Indiegogo-funded project "Britney-Holics Anonymous: A Spear-itual Awakening" is slated for release in 2015.
Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco: With their unmatched and distinct style of unconventional humor, filmmakers Patrick Epino and Stephen Dypiangco created the PBS Digital Studios web series, "The National Film Society." This gives them the opportunity to make YouTube videos about their lives, pop culture, movies, and as Dypiangco says, “their ups and downs as filmmakers in L.A.” The two are also successful independent filmmakers and their recent film Awesome Asian Bad Guys premiered during CAAMFest 2014 and continues to kick ass at film festivals around the country.
Jon Jon Augustavo: If you enjoyed the music videos for Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”, “Can’t Hold Us”, and “Same Love,” then you should be praising the filmmaking talent of Jon Jon Augustavo. In addition to winning an MTV Video Music Award and being nominated for a Grammy, the Seattle native has a collection of short films such as "How to Disappear Completely" and "When the Wind Stops" that will impress as much as his music videos.
Matthew Libatique: As a master cinematographer, Libatique has been the go-to man for acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky. He was the director of photography for "Pi," "Requiem For a Dream," "The Fountain," and his most recent film "Noah." He even snagged an Oscar nomination for his work on "Black Swan." In addition, to that he has worked on major blockbuster like "Iron Man" and in Justin Timberlake’s music videos.
The Atypical Actor
Liza Lapira: Instead of playing “Asian gal pal,” Lapira has been known for playing “Gal pal who happens to be Asian.” All of her roles as of late have been non ethnicity specific and have shown her range as an actress—but she really works the comedy well. In the movies you might recognize her as Emma Stone’s snarky friend in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." On TV, she was the clingy/obsessed neighbor in ABC’s short-lived (and highly underrated) "Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23." She currently is starring alongside Josh Duhamel, Janet McTeer, and Kal Penn in Vince Gilligan’s CBS crime drama "Battle Creek."
Jose Llana: Naturally, Broadway actor Jose Llana has been going for Asian-centric roles on Broadway. He’s starred in productions of "Flower Drum Song," "The King and I," and landed the role of Ferdinand Marcos on the critically acclaimed Off Broadway hit, "Here Lies Love," a musical about the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos. In 2013, he was pleasantly surprised to score the role of the vicious Bill Sikes in the Papermill Playhouse production of "Oliver!," a role that has usually gone to white actors.
Dave Bautista: He may have been widely known as “Batista,” WWE superstar, but this year, Dave Bautista has become a bonafide movie star—thanks to the summer’s biggest blockbuster "The Guardians of the Galaxy." He played Drax the Destroyer in the runaway hit, but I expected him to be nothing but a talking pile of muscle and a throwaway character. I was proven wrong. Very wrong. He surprised audiences with his acting abilities (and humor) by holding his own with fellow scene stealers. (Side note: he did cry when he found out he got the part. That would explain his dedication and why he was so good in the role.) Next up for Bautista? Rumor has it that he is going to be a henchman in the next Bond film.
The Reality Standouts
Manila Luzon: Flamboyant, beautiful, and the perfect amount of diva, Manila Luzon won us over in the third season of "RuPaul’s Drag Race." Born Karl Westerberg, she was a fan favorite and always received praise from the judges. She may have been the runner up in her season, but she definitely worked it out enough to be the best damn Fil-Am drag queen in the business today.
Dale Talde: On the fourth season of "Top Chef," Dale was kind of a lose cannon. His temper was fiery, but he still managed to not be the crazy villain of the season. He managed to inject Filipino culture into some of his dishes he cooked on the show, but sadly, he did not win. He went on to compete in "Top Chef All-Star"s and in 2012 opened his own restaurant in New York called Talde, which gives a twist on Vietnamese, Japanese, and Filipino cuisine.
Jessica Sanchez: During her run on the 11th season of American Idol, her pipes got her high marks from the judges week after week performing songs by power divas like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion. She made it to the finals, but ended up being the runner-up. After the show, she signed to Interscope records, released her debut album "Me, You & The Music," appeared on "Glee," and sang for President Obama. It sounds like she is coping well with her runner-up status.
The Comedy Brigade
Christine Gambito: You may know her as HappySlip on her uber-popular YouTube channel. With her character acting background, Gambito brought her arsenal of comedy skills and her uncanny impressions of her family members to YouTube. Her channel (all written, directed and produced by her) quickly became popular and earned her a YouTube Video Award nomination for Best Comedy in 2006. Her popularity even got her a gig as the ambassador for tourism for the Philippines. She is truly one of the trailblazer YouTube stars.
Eugene Cordero: The actor/comedian/expert improviser is climbing up through the ranks. I first heard him on the “Comedy Bang! Bang!” podcast as the character “Tito Ben” and then later discovered that he was on Showtime’s "House of Lies" and is 1/3rd of the sketch group Buffoons. He’s also stretched his improv skills on the musical improv show, Diamond Lion and a guest improviser on Upright Citizens Brigade’s ASSSSCAT. Next up for him is a spot in Paul Feig’s half-hour comedy series, "Other Space" on Yahoo!.
Charlyne Yi: I knew there was something special about Charlyne Yi when I saw her on Knocked Up as the odd giggling girl. I would later discover that she was a stand-up comic with her own charming (and slightly peculiar) sense of humor. She would later go on and star in TV shows (House M.D.) and other movies ("This is 40" and "Paper Heart"—which she also wrote). But my all-time favorite video of her is an amusing reenactment of a dramatic scene from "Dirty Dancing" with Channing Tatum. It’s the best.
The Music Maestro
DJ Bonics: There are many Filipino DJs out there, but one that you need to know is DJ Bonics, the DJ of rapper Wiz Khalifa. When he’s not DJ’ing for Wiz, DJ Bonics (a.k.a. Brandon Glova) is lending his DJ’ing skills for 96.1 Kiss FM in Pittsburgh and Wired 96.5 in Philly.
Caterina Fake: Caterina Fake began her career working on websites for big-time Fortune 500 companies and Salon.com. She later went on to be the co-founder of one of the most popular photo-sharing websites on the Internet—you may have heard of it—it’s called Flickr. The site was eventually acquired by Yahoo! and Fake went on to do more of her own ventures including her most recent project, Findery, an app that allows people to leave notes in specific geographic locations to help travelers discover and explore new places.
The Super Overachiever
Robert Lopez: If you have ever uttered any lyric to the song “Let it Go” from the Disney blockbuster "Frozen" you can thank Robert Lopez for planting that catchy tune in your ear. He and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez co-wrote the song which went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. This put Lopez on the prestigious EGOT list. He was the first Filipino American and 12th person ever to win an Emmy (The Wonder Pets), Grammy (The Book of Mormon), Oscar, and Tony (Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon).
Jose Antonio Vargas: Last and most certainly not least, Jose Antonio Vargas is a triple threat. He’s a journalist, a filmmaker, and an activist—all of which has made him a prominent figure in media. As a journalist, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2008 with his coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. This eventually led him to write for more publications including the New York Times Sunday Magazine where he “came out” as an undocumented resident. This not only served as a platform for him to become an advocate for immigration reform in the United States, but it also served as a bridge to "Documented," a compelling autobiographical documentary he wrote, produced and directed.