Hollywood is an industry that has become synonymous with the American Dream and what would the story of the American dream be without immigrants? The United States is built on generations of people coming in from all over the world to build a country that in many ways is a combination of many cultures from outside America. The immigrant experience is a nearly universal one many Americans can relate to, but one that cannot be defined in one way. In celebration of our immigrants, we’re highlighting some famous actors’ stories, including Shang Chi star Simu Liu.
Breaking into the movie industry is not an easy safe to crack, but these actors not only pulled it off, they’ve also used their platforms to bring light to their personal experiences as immigrants or children of immigrants. Let’s take a look:
Okay, so Simu Liu is Canadian, but the breakout Marvel star has taken a refreshingly candid approach to speaking to his roots having Canadian-Chinese parents. This spring he’s releasing a memoir called We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story to explore his roots ahead of starring in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Liu was born in China in 1989, at a time when his parents were given the opportunity to study in America. Liu was raised by his grandparents until the age of 5, when he was brought to Canada to live with them.
A photo posted by on
As Liu recalled in a 2017 column in Maclean’s, he long had a difficult relationship with his parents as their wishes for him were to find a stable 9-to-5 and he got fired from his accounting firm eight months in. It was then that Liu decided to pursue work in the world of movies, beginning with a minimum wage job on a Guillermo del Toro movie. After years of odd jobs, Liu found a steady TV gig on Kim’s Convinience before nabbing the Marvel hero role. As he’s shared, his relationship with his parents, being the child of immigrants being raised in a Western world, especially where anti-Asian rhetoric can be a concern, was not always easy, but as he grew older, he realized his upbringing helped pave his path, even if it’s much different than they envisioned.
Salma Hayek grew up in Mexico as the daughter of immigrants as well, with a Spanish mother and Lebanese father. As a young woman, Hayek quit school to pursue acting and became a telenovela star in her native country, per Biography. However, Hayek was especially ambitious and decided to move to Los Angeles to make it in Hollywood. In a 2003 guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Hayek shared her experience:
Hayek’s big break was in Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado alongside Antonio Banderas back in 1995 before becoming a massive Hollywood star, beginning her own production company and becoming the first Latin actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. As Hayek recently reflected on The Drew Barrymore Show, when she was rejected early in her incredible career, she couldn’t help but be aware of the untapped market of Latinos Hollywood was ignoring at the time. Nowadays, Hayek is one of the most beloved actors of our time with a great immigrant story about going against the grain.
Another recent Marvel star and Salma Hayek’s fellow Eternals co-star Kumail Nanjiani hails originally from Karachi, Pakistan and was raised as a Muslim. After high school, Nanjiani moved to Iowa where he studied computer science and philosophy before he started doing stand-up comedy in Chicago. Being a young immigrant, Nanjiani’s comedy has often skewed toward his experience as a topic of conversation, such as this observation, per USA Today (opens in new tab):
Nanjiani got his big break with a role in Silicon Valley, but when he and his wife Emily Gordon adapted their love story into 2017’s critically-acclaimed The Big Sick, Nanjiani’s immigrant story was given a larger stage. Since then, Nanjiani has become an A-list star, but continues to make his roots part of his storytelling, such as with his Little America series, which can be viewed with an AppleTV+ subscription, and has become the first South Asian superhero in Eternals.
That ‘70s Show actress Mila Kunis was born in Ukraine and then moved to United States when she was seven, in the ‘80s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. The actress once told Glamour about her family’s immigrant story:
As Kunis shared, her parents ultimately found their way in the U.S, with her father owning cabs and her mother working her way up to be a manager at Rite-Aid. Even though they had treacherous immigration beginnings, Kunis felt like she “never missed out on anything” because they did such a “beautiful job” of not making her feel poor. These days, Kunis is an accomplished actress and wife to Ashton Kutcher, who she has two kids with.
Diane Guerrero was a breakout star in Netflix’s award-winning series Orange is the New Black for numerous seasons before also being part of Jane the Virgin, the DC universe for Doom Patrol and in Disney’s latest hit Encanto, as the voice of Isabela. Guerrero is a New Jersey-born American actress, but grew up as the only member in her immediate family with U.S. citizenship, her parents being immigrants from Colombia. As Guerrero shared to NPR, when she was 14 she experienced her parents getting deported. In her words:
Diane Guerrero ended up being taken in by her friend’s family for the school year and visiting her parents in prison. She also recalls being “looked as less” as an American citizen with undocumented parents. Guerrero has used her platform to be a big advocate for immigration reform since her experience.
Vanessa Hudgens is also an American-born actress, with her father being a native of the U.S. whereas her Filipina mother’s native country is Manila. Following the actress’ success in High School Musical, a number of Netflix holiday films and the recent Oscar-nominated movie Tick, Tick… Boom!, Hudgens has shared that she wants to make a movie about her mother’s immigration story. She said this:
There are many forms of immigration stories and the millions of people living in America and other countries after making the difficult adjustment is an important thing for people with big platforms like these actors to continue to discuss.
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Thank you for signing up to CinemaBlend. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.