The first recorded presence of Filipinos on the continental U.S. was on October 18, 1587, according to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS). It is for this reason that Filipino American History Month takes place during October.
FANHS first introduced Filipino American History Month in 1992, but it wasn’t till 2009 that it was officially recognized by Congress.
While it isn’t the traditional thing that comes to mind when considering history, arts and entertainment are important to recognize in regards to Filipino American history. To not acknowledge the contributions Filipinos have made in the American entertainment industry would be a disservice.
Filipinos are known for their love of performing, whether that be singing, dancing, acting, or all of the above.
Chances are, if you encounter a Filipino, they will be or were once involved in at least one of the three aforementioned activities. I am one of the rare exceptions to that. But every fellow Filipino I befriended throughout my years of school either sang, danced, or acted. Some did all — not to mention also knowing how to play an instrument. At family gatherings, karaoke is a staple, and singing ability does not matter.
Knowing this, it’s no surprise the American entertainment industry contains many Filipinos who have made and continue to shape what it is today. And this is the case even with the lack of proper representation Filipinos have in the media.
In honor of Filipino American History Month, I highlighted 11 Filipino actors to know. But there are plenty more. From Marvel to Star Trek and beyond, here are 11 more Filipino actors who have played a role in your favorite past and upcoming movies and television shows:
The former professional wrestler known as “Batista” transitioned to acting and is best known for playing Drax, one member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Also featured in the newly released Dune and in the upcoming Knives Out 2, Bautista’s Filipino ancestry comes from his father’s side.
Bautista told INQUIRER.net that his grandfather, Alfonso Bautista, was a Philippines war veteran who immigrated to the U.S. In an April 2017 interview with ABS-CBN News, the actor expressed how humbled he is to be an inspiration to his fellow Filipinos. Bautista pays homage to his heritage through two of his tattoos: an eight-ray sun reminiscent of the one on the Philippines flag on his upper chest and a Philippines flag on his left bicep.
Spider-Man’s best friend is played by a Filipino American, and the character may be canonically Filipino in the MCU as well. Batalon, a Hawaii-born Filipino American, portrays Ned Leeds opposite Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. He’ll reprise his role in December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, and we may see his lola — the Tagalog term for “grandmother” — in the film.
According to This Filipino American Life, Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios’ parent company, was casting for a Filipina in the age range of 50-90 years at the start of the year. Based on the time and location, GMA Network reported that the Filipina lola could be for No Way Home given Batalon’s Filipino heritage.
On being Filipino, Batalon told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he grew up in “a very typical Filipino household,” mentioning Filipino food, speaking Filipino languages and, of course, singing karaoke.
Cordero has a plethora of credits to his name, but he captured the hearts of Marvel fans in season 1 of Loki as fan-favorite TVA employee Casey. More recently, he has voiced Ensign Samanthan Rutherford/Ensign Sam Rutherford/Winger Bingston, Jr. on Star Trek: Lower Decks. He also played the recurring character Pillboi in The Good Place, joining fellow Filipino Manny Jacinto on the show.
Another Filipino will be making their MCU debut soon. Steinfeld, a Filipina America, will be seen in Marvel Studios’ upcoming Disney+ series Hawkeye starting in late November. Known also for her work in True Grit, The Edge of Seventeen and Dickinson among others, Steinfeld has Filipino ancestry on her mother’s side.
Her maternal grandfather, Ricardo Domasin, was especially supportive of her career and proud of her achievements. In an article from Rappler, Steinfeld recalled how Domasin would brag to strangers that she would go out on auditions.
“I’m so proud to be his granddaughter, to be Filipino, and to have that in my blood because it will always be there.”
Jon Jon Briones
The Philippine-born Briones has been featured in numerous Ryan Murphy projects. His first Murphy-led project was FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. He portrayed Modesto Cunanan, the Filipino father of the infamous Andrew Cunanan — played by Darren Criss. According to Deadline, Criss first mentioned the role to Briones when they met at the 2017 Tony Awards, saying Briones would be perfect for the then-undisclosed upcoming role.
When speaking to Deadline, he also mentioned the importance of proper representation: “No matter who you are, you are always the hero of your story, even if you’re playing a bad person, but there needs to be a humanity and there’s no humanity in a person that you don’t understand. Representation does that. It makes you understand and it gives you empathy.”
Daughter of the aforementioned Jon Jon, Isa Briones played her father’s onscreen daughter in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story as Elena Cunanan. But her rise to fame comes from her work on Paramount+’s Star Trek: Picard. She plays Soji/ Sutra/Dahj.
Born in London when her dad was in the West End production of Miss Saigon, Isa also has a musical theatre background. Before Picard, she was starring in the Angelica touring company of the Hamilton national tour. The Filipina American played Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds and was the Eliza Hamilton understudy. Per INQUIRER.net, she was the youngest lead at 19.
If you’ve seen the entirety of Pretty Little Liars, then you’ll maybe remember the storyline about Mr. Fitz’s (supposed) son, Malcolm. Sans the first appearance of the character, Malcolm was played by Teo Briones, son and brother to the aforementioned Jon Jon and Isa, respectively.
Currently, the Filipino American actor can be seen as Junior Wheeler on the new Chucky television series airing on USA and SYFY.
Lachey, who was born in the Philippines at Clark Air Base, currently stars as Special Agent in Charge Jane Tennant in CBS’ NCIS: Hawai’i. She is the first female lead of an NCIS show. Her Filipina heritage comes from her mother, and it has helped her make connections in Oahu.
“There are so many Filipinos here (in Oahu),” Lachey told United Press International. “I love when they’re like, ‘Vanessa! Oh, my God, you’re like family.’”
In 2015, Lachey starred in the NBC series Truth Be Told. Her character, Tracy, was Filipina and spent an episode trying to better embrace and share that heritage with her daughter. Edwin A. Santos of FilAm Creative did a great job of detailing the episode’s narrative of cultural self-acceptance and the struggles Filipinos have sometimes have with it.
Al-Bustami’s first major role was in the CW’s Vampire Diaries spin-off, The Originals, where she played the recurring Monique Deveraux. The Filipina American, who also has Jordanian-Palestinian heritage, is currently starring alongside the aforementioned Lachey in NCIS: Hawai’i. Al-Bustami plays Lucy Tara, a member of Tennant’s team.
Another Filipino American on NCIS: Hawai’i, Talan is a member of the main cast. He plays Lachey’s on-screen son, Alex Tennant.
In an essay on Backstage, Talan, a son of Filipino immigrants, detailed the struggles he has had as an Asian in the entertainment industry and compared them to the hardships he faced while growing up in a white, suburban New Hampshire town. He noted that NCIS: Hawai’i was the first time he auditioned for a Filpino character and made him felt “seen.”
“When I booked the role, I couldn’t believe it,” Talan wrote. “They wanted my perspective, and I didn’t have to change who I was or fit into a mold to provide it. This role feels like exactly where I’m supposed to be. And I hope this inspires other actors not to settle into a stereotype; to respect your needs as an artist, because all of us can be the change we want to see in this industry.”
Napoleon rounds out the Tennant family on NCIS: Hawai’i as the recurring Julie Tennant, daughter of Jane and sister to Alex. The series marks the television debut for the young Filipina American actress. On her Instagram, her bio says she is also a singer.