Vanessa Hudgens has been making waves in Hollywood since her big break in the High School Musical series in 2006, but to this day, she has yet to find her place in the global industry as a Filipino-American actress.
The international star was born and raised in the United States by her late American dad Greg and her Pinay mom Gina, who opted to move abroad when she was just 25 years old. While she spent so much of her yesteryears eating a lot of adobo, pancit, and lumpia, she confessed she grew up “very American” as she found her way from musical theater to where she is now.
Even after HSM, the actress has kept an incredible filmography, with much-loved movies like The Princess Switch series (2018, 2020, and 2021) and Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021). Despite all the fame and recognition she has earned, however, she’s still admittedly in the process of figuring out where she truly fits in Hollywood due to her mixed race.
The global tourism ambassador for the Philippines set foot in the country for the first time in late March to shoot a travel documentary, which will look into her relationship with her family and their Filipino roots. At a recently concluded press conference for the upcoming project in Manila, Hudgens acknowledged that the Hollywood scene is “definitely diversifying,” but it still has a long way to go.
I think that I’m still out there trying to find where I fit in Hollywood but I think it’s becoming more welcoming and becoming more colorful.
“There are still very niche things that people are now leaning into. I remember I wanted to audition for a movie that I was very passionate about, a character that I've always wanted to play, and I was told that I couldn’t because I wasn’t Black or Latina,” she recalled. “I was like, I mean, ‘I’m ethnic, if that’s what you’re looking for.’”
“It’s hard—it really is. I think that I’m still out there trying to find where I fit in Hollywood but I think it’s becoming more welcoming and becoming more colorful. So that’s all we can do, continue to tell stories that we love and be included so that it does diversify,” she added.
What she said echoed her thoughts in her cover story interview with Glamour UK back in 2021, where she revealed her desire to make a movie about her Filipina mother's story. “My mom is from the Philippines, and growing up, there weren’t really that many women who looked like me and my mom and my family on-screen,” she mused at the time as she stressed the importance of highlighting stories from different cultures across the globe.
“It is so important to share all the different stories because America is a massive melting pot, just like the world,” she said then. “There are so many different stories that need to be told so that we are exposed to them and can have more empathy towards different people.”
The more that we can celebrate films and people from all around the world, the more people are exposed to different cultures, and the more accepting people who might be closed off to it become.
Beyond the stories from various corners of the world, it's just as important to put the spotlight on talented individuals of mixed ethnicity and Asian descent. According to a report by The New York Times, Asian stars have rarely been recognized at the Academy Awards—the most prestigious award-giving body that celebrates the film industry, its people, and its myriad aspects. “Of 1,808 acting award nominees, only 23 could be identified as Asian. Just six have won,” it said.
Asian talents like Vietnamese-American Ke Huy Quan and Malaysian Michelle Yeoh reigned supreme at this year’s Oscars for their stunning performances on Best Picture winner Everything Everywhere All at Once. Quan won the Best Supporting Actor title, while Yeoh made history as the first Asian to clinch an Oscar in the Best Actress category. Prior to the 2023 Oscars, “only one Asian actor has won in a single year,” according to NYT.
For Hudgens, such feats by Asian performers like Quan and Yeoh have significantly affected the context of representation in the motion picture industry. “The more that we can celebrate films and people from all around the world, the more people are exposed to different cultures, and the more accepting people who might be closed off to it become,” she said at the presscon.
To this day, the Philippines has yet to win an Oscar in acting. Host Boy Abunda expressed his hope to Hudgens that in about five years, a Filipino could finally achieve this gold in film.
“Well, it’s gonna be me!” claimed Hudgens, who also said she is open to taking part in a movie in the Philippines one day. “It would be a wonderful excuse to be here,” she added.