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Famous Filipinos on red carpet

Famous Filipino Movie Stars, Directors and More – Our 5 top picks

As film awards season has rolled around once again, we’ve decided to take a look back at some famous Filipinos who have walked the red carpets of Hollywood, a major player in the international entertainment industry.

However, for some people who follow the showbiz scene, awards season is also a reminder of how the industry is still lacking when it comes to representation and diversity.

Reporting on the University of California’s (USC) Annenberg Inclusion Initiative for The Hollywood Reporter, journalist Rebecca Sun noted that among the 100 top-grossing films in the United States in 2022, only 32% of leads and co-leads were from historically underrepresented races or ethnicities.

“Nearly 40%-39.9%-of the [US] population is not white,” said Sun.

Rolling Stone also reported fewer female directors and directors from underrepresented communities had taken the lead in the US’s top films in 2022 compared to 2021.

It’s no wonder that whenever we see a Filipino doing well behind or in front of the camera internationally, it is a cause for celebration, and there was much to celebrate in 2022.

In this blog, we’ll recall the famous Filipinos who have recently made waves in the global entertainment scene.

Januel Mercado

Januel Mercado co-directed DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, released in 2022 and earned 2023 Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for the best-animated film.

Mercado grew up in the US, but his mother and father were from Zambales and Manila in the Philippines. Talking to GMA News Online, the animator said his experiences growing up with his parents in Stockton, California, influenced parts of his work.

“My love and care and my Filipino culture is very universal as well. It’s just like the connection and the closeness that you have with your family. And it’s often that the people who you’re closest to are the ones, that you [butt heads] and bicker with the most because you have that trust and you have that relationship and I’m very proud to say that, that’s that specific experience. And the way I live is tied to the emotion of the film and the character dynamics,” he said.

Before becoming a director, Mercado worked as a story artist at DreamWorks Animation for seven years before becoming a supervising director at Nickelodeon from 2015 to 2017. Mercado then did some freelance work as a storyboard artist before returning to DreamWorks to work as head of story and eventually co-director with his friend Joel Crawford.

Apart from Puss in Boots, Mercado also worked in well-known animated films, including Kung Fu Panda 2, Penguins of Madagascar, The Lego Ninjago Movie, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, and The Croods: A New Age.

Dolly de Leon

You may have seen Dolly de Leon playing big parts as a character actress in Philippine showbiz. Still today, she makes our list of famous Filipinos for playing Abigail, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), in Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness.

In Östlund’s social satire, Abigail works as a toilet manager on a luxury cruise. Her survival skills eventually turn her into a leader when the cruise goes awry and the passengers are stranded on a deserted island.

The film received excellent reviews and won the 2022 Palm d’Or, the highest award from the Cannes Film Festival. In addition, for her critically acclaimed performance, De Leon garnered several historic nominations for best supporting actress.

She became the first Filipino to be nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, the British equivalent of the Academy Awards, or Oscars, in the US. She also won the award for Best Supporting Performance at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

Though she did not make the final list, Scott Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter’s executive editor for awards, had cited De Leon as a frontrunner for an Academy Award nomination.

Apart from Triangle of Sadness, you can watch De Leon in Lav Diaz’s Historya ni Ha, Erik Matti’s episode for HBO’s Folklore, Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s Verdict, and on Dirty Linen, a revenge drama on Philippine television.

Chai Fonacier

Next on our list of famous Filipinos is Chai Fonacier, who got her start as a contestant in the Philippine singing competition and reality show, Pinoy Dream Academy.

She further honed her performance skills as a university student, leaving her province of Cagayan de Oro to study at the University of the Philippines – Cebu. It was in Cebu that Fonacier learned improv acting and made a name for herself in the local music scene as a member of the trip-hop trio, WOMB.

By 2015 Fonacier was already winning awards for best supporting actress, first in the Sinulog Film Festival for her performance in the short film Operation Prutas, then in the Cinema One Originals Festival for her role in Miss Bulalacao.

Her most significant break before acting internationally was playing the trans man Jude in Victor Villanueva’s Patay na si Hesus, a road trip comedy about a family leaving Cebu to attend their estranged father’s funeral in another Philippine province called Dumaguete.

Fonacier’s portrayal of Jude won her another best supporting actress award at the 2017 Cinemalaya Film Festival. She also had a role in Respeto, which won best film at the same festival.

In 2022, after appearing in several productions in Manila, Fonacier went on to star alongside international actors Eva Green and Mark Strong in Nocebo. In this psychological thriller, Fonacier plays an OFW and folk healer who works as a nanny in the United Kingdom and uses her healing skills to smoke out the truth.

Apart from Nocebo, Fonacier appears in Raynier Brizuela’s Asuang and Perci M. Intalan’s Born Beautiful. She has also acted in several Filipino television and streaming series, including Ang Probinsyano and Maria Clara at Ibarra.

Soliman Cruz

Soliman Cruz was a theatre actor long before his big break in the 2005 Filipino indie film The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, where he played the main character’s father.

This indie role landed him parts alongside famous Filipinos in the local film and television industry, like Judy Ann Santos and John Lloyd Cruz.

However, an untreated drug addiction slowed down his career in the late 2000s, bringing him to a low point in his life, when he lived on the streets of Manila to avoid burdening his family.

Fellow artists helped Cruz recover, and by 2018, he regained a steady career as an actor in the Philippines.

The last year proved to be his biggest yet, with a best supporting actor award from Cinemalaya for his role in Blue Room, and international attention for his role as an OFW in Mihai Mincan’s To the North.

In Mincan’s film, Cruz plays a Filipino seaman who spots a Romanian stowaway while aboard a Taiwanese cargo ship. Faced with a dilemma, Cruz’s character must choose between surrendering the stowaway to be thrown overboard or saving his life.

The multilingual thriller won the Premio Bisanto D’Oro at the 79th Venice Film Festival.

Apart from To the North, you can admire Cruz’s acting chops in Raymond Red’s Manila Skies, Lav Diaz’s Norte sa Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, and Erik Matti’s On the Job films.

Stefanie Arianne

Stefanie Arianne grew up in the Philippines and moved to Japan to pursue an acting and modelling career when she turned 18.

In a new country, she faced several failed auditions while working English teaching and retail jobs to make ends meet.

It was in 2020 that Stefanie was cast in Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75, where she played Maria, an OFW working as a caregiver for Japanese senior citizens.

In the film, Maria bonds with one of the main characters who is struggling to make the most of her senior years in a Japan that has incentivised voluntary euthanasia for citizens aged 75 and above.

For its empathetic discussion of love, family, and ageing, Plan 75 received a Camera d’Or Special Mention Award and a five-minute standing ovation at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in 2022. The film was also Japan’s entry for best international feature film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Though Plan 75 did not make the Oscars shortlist, it did receive great reviews, including a 94% Tomatometer rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

Stefanie still has a day job in a call centre where she talks to Japanese children in English, but she is also working on another movie.

Her dream is to eventually establish a Hollywood career to represent Filipino Japanese people on a grand stage.

Follow your dreams

Because of these famous Filipinos in international entertainment, audiences across the globe have the chance to appreciate Filipino talent and learn about our experiences.

And like you, the people on our list have overcome challenges to get to where they are now. They are working to reach their dreams and make a better life for themselves.

If you’re considering a new life overseas as an OFW, or you’re already living in the UK or Canada, make sure you use Kabayan Remit when sending money back home to your family and friends in the Philippines.

Our easy-to-use mobile app ensures your money arrives safely and securely. We also offer high exchange rates and very low fees so that you can get the most out of your money.


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