2022 has undoubtedly been a landmark year for Asian representation. From Everything Everywhere All at Once rocking the big screen (and Michelle Yeoh’s rightful career renaissance) to season two of Netflix’s Bridgerton centring a pair of south Asian sisters, Asian talent has been front and centre this year. And while relishing these moments is great (especially as you cozy up in front of the TV during the cold holiday season), there’s so much more to look forward to in 2023.
Here up North, Canada is bursting at the seams with talented Asians across all industries! Looking towards the year ahead, we’ve rounded up our first-annual list of Asian Canadians to look out for in 2023.
You’ve probably seen her on your For You page—likely bringing a smile to your face. Posting as @ogbhangralicious, Vancouver-based Amreen Gill has over eight million likes and more than 300,000 followers on the app. Gill—and occasionally, her brother Swarndeep—are widely known for their dancing videos and comedic skits on the app. “A lot of times, [the sketches] are observational comedy, which is something that I think every South Asian kid does,” she tells The RepresentASIAN Project. “The first thing you do is like, oh, let’s imitate our parents.”
Often, Gill’s videos use comedy for social commentary. Some of the patriarchal aspects of South Asian culture, for example, have been satirized by Gill in her videos. “I tend to use comedy to voice my opinion,” she says. “It’s always a mixed bag. Some people think it’s wonderful; others will tell me I’m the worst person they’ve ever seen.”
But the love she receives far overshadows the hate. Currently, Gill is working on a comedy web series about immigrants in Canada, featuring original songs and collaborations with other Canadian artists. The web series will “very much tell our story as immigrants,” says Gill.
Known for her bombastic personality, incredible energy and sickening looks on the runway, drag queen Bombae made waves this year after appearing on the third season of Canada’s Drag Race.
After relocating to Toronto from Mumbai in 2016, Bombae proudly showcased her Indian roots throughout her time on Canada’s Drag Race. From a Kathakali-inspired outfit for the Goddesses of the Ancient World-themed runway to a final look that was serving Holi (the festival of colours) Bombae undoubtedly made her motherland proud.
“It was really good not just to represent my culture, but I use drag … to communicate with audiences. When an audience member leaves a Bombae show, if they’re like ‘this makes me think,’ I’ve done my job,” said Bombae in an interview with Narcity. “It makes me so proud to think that people’s mindsets about India and about gender have changed once they saw me on the show.”
Twenty-six-year-old Luna Li has had quite the year. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter-producer rose to prominence early in the pandemic, when her at-home jam sessions went viral on social media. The simple magic of Li tinkering around on a guitar, then a keyboard and a harp until it magically transforms into a dreamy soundscape eventually created the foundations of her first EP Jams, which came out in 2021.
Her jamming was taken to the next level this year when her debut album Duality dropped. Featuring other Asian artists like Beabadoobee and Jay Som, Li’s Duality launched her into indie stardom. After Duality came out, Li played as a part of Japanese Breakfast’s band when the latter performed on SNL (Li previously opened for JBrekkie on their 2021 North American tour), toured with Wolf Alice and, In the fall, Li embarked on a headlining tour of her own throughout the U.S. and Europe.
While Li’s tour ended last month, she continues to post jam sessions on her social media, including an operatic melody inspired by the film Everything Everywhere All At Once. We’re looking forward to new music from Li in 2023.
Among Toronto’s largely male-dominated music scene, Tiger Balme is the sonic salve we need. Led by Asian women and gender-nonconforming folks, members Anda Zeng, Danielle Sum, Estyr Chen and Yang Chen synergize to create music that heals wounds of the past, expands what the future could hold, and explores how the system we live under impacts our identities.
Tiger Balme was born after Estyr Chen’s unsavoury experience navigating the Toronto music scene. “I was constantly being talked over and questioned, and I couldn’t tell how much of that was coming from my own insecurity and how much of that I was picking up on in the rooms that I was in,” Chen tells The RepresentASIAN Project. “So, I thought I think it would be really good practice for me to co-create music with other women and see, does it feel different?”
After accruing a loyal following through performing in and around Toronto for four years, the indie-alt band and creative collective released their debut self-titled album in 2022.
In the new year, the group will participate in a residency with the Raging Asian Womxn Taiko Drummers, devoting time to writing material and exploring new sounds. With healing and community infused in all of their creative output, Tiger Balme surely has lots more on the horizon.
(Photo: Patch Fraser)
2022 was Rong Fu’s breakout year, embodying characters both in downtown Toronto and outer space. You may have seen her as Avery, one of the lead roles in the CBC Gem original web series Hello (Again) — the first romantic comedy show on Canadian mainstream TV with two Asian leads, created by Nathalie Younglai and Simu Liu. Or for Star Trek fans, Fu played Jenna Mitchell in the franchise’s spin-off series Strange New Worlds. For Fu, these dazzling roles culminate years of work and perseverance.
Born in Qin’an, China, Fu and her family moved to Canada when she was eight years old, settling in East York, Toronto. When Fu began passionately pursuing a career in theatre and film in Grade 11, she was glad her parents had her back. “My family’s working class; we kind of grew up in poverty for most of my childhood. So for them to allow me to take this big leap of faith is something that I’m really thankful for,” Fu tells The RepresentASIAN Project. “Ultimately, it came down to a realization that my parents had sacrificed so much and given up so much of their dreams to try and make a living. I felt like if I didn’t follow my dreams, it would be a disservice to that sacrifice that they’ve made to continue that cycle of just getting by and not doing what you want to do.”
As she continued to engage with the performing arts community, she navigated the industry with the guidance of mentors that showed Fu and many other young actors how to carve an authentic space in the industry. Her active involvement in her community eventually led to her becoming a founding member of Asians in the 6ix, a collective converging Asian talent—that work both in front and behind the camera—to further conversation about projects and our industry.
Iranian Canadian fashion designer Dorian Who and her label (named after herself) specializes in avant-garde, seasonless and genderless outfits that have made headlines. This year, her label debuted outside of Canada at LA Fashion Week and was nominated for the Canadian Arts and Fashion Award (CAFA) for Emerging Talent, Fashion, signifying her arrival in the fashion industry.
On top of her maximalist style, Dorian Who hopes to educate others on the importance of slow, ethically-made fashion—especially as fast fashion brands like SHEIN continue to rise in popularity and trendiness. “Fashion is a leading cause of carbon emissions, the industry’s contribution to the climate crisis is not to be dismissed,” she told Vita Daily in October. “Being a lover of fashion, it is an ongoing battle on how to enjoy creativity and this wonderful industry, while being cautious of the short and long-term impacts on the environment.”
Plus, with her newfound platform and social media following, the designer aims to bring attention to issues close to her heart, like Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests it sparked in Iran and around the world.
After watching a pirated version of Django Unchained on his iPod Touch at age 12, Reangsei Phos knew right then and there that his future career was in film. The traditional path for him was clear: film school. But a year into his degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), he dropped out.
“When I dropped out, I didn’t know anyone else who had done the same. It’s always something you hear from celebrities, but I didn’t know anyone personally who dropped out of school,” Phos tells The RepresentASIAN Project. “I felt alone. I didn’t have anything to refer to or a case study to use. There was a lot of uncertainty.”
Hailing from Markham, Ontario, the Chinese-Cambodian Toronto-based writer and director has since made waves for his short films #StopAsianHate and Talisman, the latter of which won the Audience Award at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth.
Drawing from his childhood and culture, Phos’ films explore the auspicious superstitions of East Asian cultures and the intricacies of life through his eyes.
As his presence grows online, Phos says he is imagining ways to create, develop and release work through non-traditional means; his most recent project, Man & Fish, was shot entirely on an iPhone 13 Pro. His upcoming film, All Bark Never Bite, is expected to be released in 2023, and is currently in the festival circuit.
In 2011, writer/director Renuka Jeyapalan took a leap of faith and quit her Bay Street job to pursue a career in film. She moved to Los Angeles, where she heard a story about a young woman who met a celebrity at a Hollywood party. “It’s clear from the initial interaction that this could be a one night stand—and the question that went through her mind was like, can I be that girl who has a one night stand with a famous actor?” recounts Jeyapalan, who took inspiration from that encounter and wrote her first feature film Stay the Night centred around that question.
Before Stay the Night, which took about 10 years to be made, Jeyapalan worked extensively on well-loved TV shows like Kim’s Convenience, Ginny and Georgia and Workin’ Moms. “I couldn’t get my feature made, so I pivoted to television,” says Jeyapalan. But she still had other dreams. “I love movies. I’m obsessed with movies. I just wanted to be a filmmaker.”
Stay the Night was finally shot over two winters from 2019 to 2021. The film stars Kim’s Convenience star Andrea Bang as Grace, a chronically single outcast searching for a connection, who meets down-the-his-luck NHL star Carter (played by Joe Scarpellino) on a cold winter night in Toronto. The pair strike a link and spend the night wandering around beloved haunts (like Cold Tea, RIP). The film debuted at South by Southwest in early 2022 and played a limited run in Canadian cinemas in October and November. It’ll hit Crave in January 2023.
Next up, Jeyapalan is directing and executive producing the second season of the CBC comedy Son of a Critch, which starts airing in January.
Vancouver-based actress Jennifer Tong knew she loved performing at a young age. Growing up, she dabbled in dance, singing and musical theatre before finally discovering acting as her main passion. However, the 26-year-old’s journey into Hollywood hasn’t always been smooth sailing. When she began auditioning in 2017, she was up for roles with ambiguous titles such as “Asian woman” or “Asian girl.”
“It’s hard because, as an actor, everything is so out of your control, and you have to go along with it… I [wasn’t] in a position to say no to roles or gigs because I was trying to establish my career,” she tells The RepresentASIAN Project. “Earlier in my career, I didn’t know why it felt wrong. But as the industry grew and as society became more aware of systemic racism, that’s when I realized, ‘Oh, that’s why it felt weird.”
However, Tong found a fitting role in the Netflix and CBC Gem show FAKES which follows two best friends who accidentally built one of North America’s largest fake ID empires. Her character, Rebecca, is a rebellious high schooler who is presented as rich and slightly superficial; however, throughout the series, we see she is a motivated, passionate and adventurous girl who also has “fatal flaws” of hurting others.
“She was a really refreshing character to take in because she rebelled against a lot of the stereotypes that are often put onto Asian women,” explains Tong. “Also, the story wasn’t about her being Asian; she didn’t have to learn kung-fu and run a Chinese restaurant… throughout the season, we see nods to the fact that she’s Asian, but it’s never in a way that’s superficial.”
Tong hopes this character, along with her future roles, will inspire other aspiring Asian actresses, as well as continue to make a case for more Asian representation both on and off camera.
“If you’re an Asian girl out there who wants to be an actor and not be [cast] the nerdy best friend, it can happen, and it will happen,” she says. “Asian representation is incredibly important in all forms and articulations, so I hope we can continue on that path as well and keep growing because there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. And I think it comes from the top in terms of producers, greenlighting different projects and writers writing stories that matter and are true and relatable to all different kinds of marginalized communities.”
Some might say Zach Edey was born to play basketball. At 7’4”, the Chinese Canadian starting centre for the top-ranked Purdue Boilermakers seems made for the court… and has the performance to back this up. Described by AMAZNHQ as the “best player in the entirety of college basketball,” the 20-year-old Toronto-based player has emerged this season in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as the leading candidate for The Naismith Player of the Year Award, which is presented to the top Division 1 college basketball player in the United States. If he wins the award, he will be the first Canadian and first player of Asian descent to do so.
As of Dec 17, 2022, his team, Purdue, is undefeated with an 11-0 record featuring notable wins over ranked Duke and Gonzaga, with Zach leading the team in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and blocked shots.
When he’s not playing college ball, Edey dedicates his time to supporting the Canadian Chinese Youth Athletic Association (CCYAA) and the Jeremy Lin Basketball School.
With files from Madelyn Chung and Nathan Sing.