Like most Filipinos, the moment I hear that any celebrity has any ties to the Philippines, I am immediately a fan. Bruno Mars is practically the poster child for Filipino and Latin-American kids who grew up singing and dancing to old tunes with their parents. And I love Enrique Iglesias (Bailamos!), Vanessa Hudgens and Nicole Scherzinger. Hell, my parents loved Robin Williams not because he was a brilliant actor and comedian, but because he married a woman who was half-Filipino (may he rest in peace). Needless to say, Filipinos love supporting other Filipinos.
And then there’s Darren Criss.
I’ve known since Criss starred on Glee that he was half-Pinoy (Filipinos have a 6th Sense about these things). It felt empowering to see a Fil-Am kid on a musical t.v. series; it was as if my entire childhood as a musical theatre obsessed Filipino was being validated through this one character. Most people didn’t know about his heritage, but the Filipino community certainly did and we were so proud of Darren Criss and his achievements. Then, he did that Vulture interview.
That interview was problematic for so many reasons. Aside from the title itself [Darren Criss on Playing Serial Killer Andrew Cunanan in ACS: Versace and Passing As White? Are you kidding me?] - Criss talks candidly about being half-Filipino and how he has the luxury of passing as a white guy.
“Somebody was talking about Asian-American representation, and he’s like, ‘I don’t see a lot of stuff for Filipinos specifically,’ and I went, ‘I guess not, but I guess I don’t think about it.’ I have the luxury of being half-white and looking more Caucasian, so it doesn’t weigh on my conscience as much, like, ‘Ugh, why aren’t there more roles?’”
Now, fast forward to today. Three best actor awards and a #AsianAugust later, all of a sudden Criss is “proud to be Filipino.” During his press interview following his SAG Award win this weekend, a Filipino reporter asked him how he felt about being the first Filipino-American to win an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award in one season. He responded saying, “It’s a shame that I’m the first, it should have happened a while ago. But I believe that’s by no conscious fault of anybody. You know, roles are few and far between for someone of my ethnicity.”
Hang on a second, Darren. You just stated less than a year ago that your career as an actor has never been affected by the fact that your half-Filipino.
“I just look like a Caucasian guy, which is nice. I’ve got the multi-ethnic thing going on.”
But now all of a sudden there aren’t a lot of roles for you because you’re Filipino….?
Give me a break.
It’s nice that Darren Criss is mentioning his Filipino heritage every chance he gets now and I have no doubt that his love for his Filipino mother is sincere. But I can’t help but wonder, if he weren’t winning his awards for playing an infamous Filipino-American, if this had been just another “any ethnicity” character he portrayed, would he be so quick to shout his love for his Filipino heritage so publicly? It hasn’t escaped my attention either that Darren’s sudden outspoken Pinoy love and pride occurs after the successes of movies like Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Searching and the pressure from other activist Asian American actors, like Constance Wu and Sandra Oh, to bring more Asian American representation to the forefront of the entertainment industry. How convenient that now Criss is so proud to be Pinoy rather than privileged to look like a white guy!
The most frustrating thing about Darren Criss’ desire to represent as a Filipino is the fact that he still doesn’t seem to grasp how problematic his interview actually was. Outside of his post-win press conference interviews in which he gushes about how honored he is to inspire other Filipino and half-Filipino actors, I’ve seen nothing more than a handful of tweets from him to assure his fan-base that his favorite part about himself is that he’s half-Filipino.
I have yet to see him address his privilege as a white-passing, Asian male and how it’s played a role in his lucrative career as an award-winning actor or even give an apology for his insensitive Vulture interview. Maybe I’m expecting too much from him. Maybe I’m just tired of my heritage being nothing more than a party trick for people’s amusement. And I’m tired if half-Fil-Am people like Darren Criss treating our Filipino heritage as nothing more than an “ace up his sleeve” to be used when it benefits him the most.
I’m usually not one to hold back my support for members of my community, most especially the Filipino community. Darren Criss is right in saying that the roles for us are few and far between and I believe that we need to advocate for one another as often as we can to make sure that our stories are represented and heard. But Darren Criss and his Pinoy Pride aren’t representing anyone but himself. And I, for one, have an issue with that.