Meet Some of the Asian/Pacific Islander Actors in the Cast of Disney’s Moana

Disney’s next animated film, Moana, is set to come out in theaters this Thanksgiving. Set thousands of years ago in Oceania, it tells the story of a young navigator and a demigod as they set sail across the ocean, in search of a fabled island. From the release of its first few trailers, anticipation is constantly growing for this beautiful looking film.

Recently, new casting announcements have been made public, and we’re excited about the sheer numbers of Asian and Pacific Islander actors in the cast (playing Pacific Islander and Pacific Islander inspired characters we might add). Here are seven of the biggest highlights from the cast of Moana:

1. Auli’i Cravalho

Auli’i Cravalho will be voicing the role of young heroine, Moana. A native of Oahu, she was the last person out of hundreds of women to audition for the role. She was originally hesitant to try out for the film, assuming that someone better was bound to be found from the numerous audition videos posted on YouTube, only to catch the attention of a casting agent, while singing at a charity competition. Moana marks Cravalho’s film debut.

2. Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson will be starring alongside Cravalho as demigod and fellow navigator, Maui. Also known by his ring name “The Rock,” he first gained attention as a renowned wrestler in the WWE. While semi-retired from professional wrestling, Johnson has also made a name for himself as an actor, appearing in films such as The Mummy Returns, San Andreas, and a number of the Fast and Furious films.

3. Jemaine Clement

Jemaine Clement provides the voice of the crab, Tamatoa. He is best known for being one half of the New Zealand comedy band, Flight of the Conchords, and has a history of working alongside Moana co-writer Taika Waititi, having previously worked together in comedy and theatrical productions. Clement’s previous acting credits include roles in Waititi’s Eagle vs Shark, Despicable Me, Men in Black 3, and recently in The BFG.

4. Rachel House

Rachel House will be voicing Moana’s grandmother, Gramma Tala. A familiar face to the big screens of New Zealand, she made her film debut as Shilo in the Sundace award-winning film, Whale Rider. Much like Clement, she has also worked with Waititi several times in the past, performing in films of his such as Eagle vs Shark, Boy, and the recent hit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. House is also an acting coach, as she worked a lot with the younger actors of Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople on perfecting their performances.

5. Temuera Morrison

Temuera Morrison will be voicing Tui, Moana’s father and chief of their tribe. Another familiar face to New Zealand, he made a splash with his performance in the hit film, Once Were Warriors. On the more mainstream front, he may be best recognizable for playing Jango Fett and the clones in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. He can most recently be seen in the film, The Patriarch; an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel, Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies.

6. Nicole Scherzinger

Nicole Scherzinger will be playing the voice of Moana’s mother, Sina. In the past, she has guest appearances in TV shows such as How I Met Your Mother and My Wife and Kids. She played Maureen in RENT at the Hollywood Bowl and will soon be seen in the TV movie remake of Dirty Dancing. Scherzinger is best well known on the music front as a member of the former girl group, “The Pussycat Dolls.” She can be next seen as a returning judge on the UK’s The X Factor reality TV competition series.

7. Phillipa Soo

It is currently unknown who Phillipa Soo will be playing in Moana, but hopefully that detail will be revealed with time. She is best known for originating the role of Elizabeth Hamilton in the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton (which earned her a Tony nomination earlier this year). She will next be starring in the musical, Amélie, starting next year. While Soo’s onscreen credits remain limited, she has made appearances in the musical series, Smash.


Cover Image via Disney

Awkwafina & Mindy Kaling Join Ocean’s 8 Cast

Earlier today, Deadline confirmed that deals are close for the initial cast of their new heist movie Ocean’s 8, directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games and Free State of Jones). Big names in announcement include Oscar winners Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway as well as notable names like Helena Bonham-Carter and Rihanna. While the all-female principal cast of this traditionally male-centric franchise might have most people’s attention, we were intrigued by two familiar names in the announcement. Major roles in the film has been offered to Asian American actors Mindy Kaling and Nora Lum (aka Awkwafina).

Mindy Kaling is an actor, screenwriter, and author, who came to prominence as Kelly Kapoor in NBC’s hit show The Office where she also worked as a writer. Currently she’s one of TV’s precious few Asian American leads on her romantic comedy television series The Mindy Project.

Nora Lum, better known by her stage name Awkwafina, is a New York based rapper recently featured in the documentary Bad Rap. In addition to blowing up the stage and the internet every time she performs, she’s also been making strides as an actor, recently appearing in the film Neighbors 2.

No word yet on what roles the two will play in the ensemble cast, but chances are they will be part of the crew assembled around leads Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett to pull off some impossible caper. The only Asian member of George Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven trilogy was Chinese acrobat Qin Shaobo, who served as the crew’s slippery greaseman, who’s job was getting in and out of tight situations. While it’s unlikely that Kaling or Lum will be taking up Qin’s mantle, it’ll be interesting to see what characters they end up playing. The best part of heist films is watching each character have their moment of expertise and it’s going to be awesome to see these ladies con, sneak, hack,or even blow up their way into their objective.

We’ll be monitoring this story as it develops but please let us know in the comments what roles in the heist you think Mindy and Awkwafina might play!


Cover image via Peggy Sirota/People & Shirley Yu

Kat McDowell – The Green Room

Kat McDowell joins us for a Green Room session to play a few of her original songs. Born in Japan and raised in New Zealand, Kat’s played professionally in Japan for years before touring the world and setting up base in Los Angeles as an independent artist. Kat’s musical chops and multilingual skills are in full display in this Green Room session and if you like what you hear, check out her YouTube channel where she puts out new content weekly!

“A Little Rain”

Hear more from Kat on her YouTube channel or at


Sarah Kuhn has a Heroine Complex – Coffee Break with Minji Chang

Writer Sarah Kuhn joins us on Coffee Break to talk about her newly released novel Heroine Complexthe first book in a new superhero saga starring Asian American female protagonists! Sarah shares about her inspiration for the story, the process of publishing her first novel, and how she became, and sustains as, a professional creative.

Learn more about Sarah and her new novel at

Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: Dennis Chang
Camera Operator: Westley Kang, Andrew Kim, & Trent Nakamura
Editor: Westley Kang


Artist Kamea Hadar Celebrates Identity and President Obama with His New Mural “Hapa”

Earlier this summer, Honolulu became a little bit more presidential when a new mural of President Barack Obama came into existence. Found on a street corner in the city the 44th President of the United States was born and raised, the piece of art is the latest handiwork of local artist, Kamea Hadar.

“So the mural is a portrait of President Barack Obama,” Hadar explained via phone interview. “In the background is [an excerpt from] a speech he made in 2008 in Philadelphia.”

To Hadar, the mural is more than just a way to honor our current president as he reaches the end of his second term.

“It has to do with racial equality and that’s what the piece is about. The piece is called ‘Hapa,’ which comes from the Hawaiian word for ‘part’ or ‘partial,’ and basically it is used to refer to people of mixed race,” Hadar said. “President Obama is Hapa, I’m Hapa, a lot of people are, and it’s very much representative of the melting pot of race and culture in Hawaii and also the rest of the world.

“So anyone is part anything, not all, is referred to as Hapa. But it’s mainly like a symbol. The meaning of it is more about mixed race and not the literal translation of the word.”

Artist Kamea Hadar

Hadar, who also serves as co-director of arts network POW! WOW!, was originally approached to do the mural by the building owner, who was already a fan of his work. He wanted him to paint a mural on the side of the building, with the subject having to reflect off of the theme of being Hapa.

“So when he approached me, he said, ‘What would be a good subject?’ President Obama came up in the conversation and it kind of came together naturally,” he recalled. “It’s like a perfect fit. The building owner wanted to do a portrait that had to do with being Hapa, but he’s also a big supporter of President Obama. President Obama is an inspiration.”

The process of putting together what the overall mural would look like was a quick process for Hadar as the imagery came to him more naturally than usual.

“Usually there’s a lot of back and forth between myself and the building owner, what they wanted and what they were happy with. It was amazing,” he explained. “The mock-up of the piece and the sketch for the piece came out really, really easily and naturally, and when I showed it to the building owner, he had no comments. He was just like, ‘I love it! Let’s do it!'”

The process of getting “Hapa” painted onto the building wall came with its challenges; many of which were weather and time-related. For instance, how quickly the paint dried depended on the time of day Hadar was out painting and how high the sun was. The wind however, was the greatest nuisance, though it also helped the mural along.

“The wind was a big factor. It was a really windy area,” Hadar recalled. “So when I was trying to spray some of the background, I wanted the perfect gradient, but the wind kept catching the paint and swirling it around. And actually, it ended up adding to the piece, because when you look in the background, it has kind of this smoky, wispy feel to it and because it was so windy every day I was working, it would just spray the paint on. So it actually wounded up working to my advantage.”

Artist Kamea Hadar and his mural, “Hapa.” Photo by Andrew Tran/Instagram

Since its completion, “Hapa” has garnered a positive reception from the public, which was a relief for Hadar, as he was worried about a possible political backlash.

“Honestly, even people who aren’t supporters of Obama, they were telling me, ‘I’m not a big fan of some of his policies but I still love the mural because I think it’s a beautiful piece of art,'” said Hadar. “So it’s surprisingly positive. You know, there’s obviously going to be some criticism. In art, it’s always good to have some reaction versus none, whether good or bad.”

While he hasn’t heard anything from President Obama himself about the mural yet, he hopes that maybe one day when in town, he’ll have the chance to see it. Otherwise, Hadar is happy with the response and inspiration his mural is bringing to others.

“The point of the piece is just to inspire other people and hopefully I’ve already done that,” he stated. “I’m just happy to spread aloha is all.”

To learn more about Hadar and his other works, be sure to check out his official website and keep up to date on his latest endeavors on Facebook, as well as on Twitter and Instagram @kameahadar.


Photo Credits Jonas Maon & Andrew Tran, and via

Tim Atlas – The Green Room

Before he blew away Gwen Stefani and Pharrell on The Voice, Tim Atlas wowed the crowd as a finalist at Kollaboration San Francisco. We’re so happy that Tim was able to stop by the Kollaboration Green Room to play a few of his original songs for us! Please enjoy and let us know what you think about his music!

“Ten Goodbyes”

Hear more from Tim on his YouTube channel


Kollab ATL Chats With Julee Cerda About Smart People, “Twokens,” and Acting

Kollaboration Atlanta’s Qui Ho interviews actress Julree Cerda about her upcoming role in the play “Smart People,” premiering in Atlanta on July 12 at the True Colors Theatre Company

The quest for love, achievement and identity is universal, but what role does race play in the story of our lives? On the eve of Obama’s first election, four Harvard intellectuals find themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics. A whirlwind of crackling dialogue and tricky questions are thrown at us by the fearless and funny Lydia Diamond (Stick Fly) in this provocative and funny play
The quest for love, achievement and identity is universal, but what role does race play in the
story of our lives? On the eve of Obama’s first election, four Harvard intellectuals find
themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics. A whirlwind of
crackling dialogue and tricky questions are thrown at us by the fearless and funny Lydia
Diamond (Stick Fly) in this provocative and funny play

Julee Cerda is an American actress born in Seoul, South Korea. She was raised in New York but spent part of her childhood in her father’s home country, the Dominican Republic. Julee comes to Atlanta from New York City playing Ginny Yang, a well­ respected tenured Harvard Psychology professor, in Smart People. Her most recent theater credits include: The Bloodline of Shadrick Grace (FringeNYC) and Mad Dog Blues (Michael Chekhov Theater Company). On screen, Julee has recently appeared in House of Cards, Orange Is the NewBlack, and will be seen in Morten Tyldum’s upcoming film, Passengers.

Qui: How did the role in “Smart People” come about?

Julee: My agent asked me if I wanted to put myself on tape for the role of Ginny and having known the play and the role, I agreed to. I didn’t think anything would come of it and even went on a lengthy vacation to visit my husband’s family in England. That’s of course when I get a call saying the director wanted to meet so we ended up arranging a call over Skype.

Qui: Do you feel you face challenges in the industry due to race?

Julee: All the time. Roles for Asian Americans are few and far between and when a script calls for one, it usually requires you to play a stereotype. And while roles for Latinos are more available, I usually don’t get called in for those parts because I don’t “look” Latina enough. It’s a frustrating predicament to be in…especially if you’re an actress of mixed race. But I’m grateful playwrights like Lydia R. Diamond has created a role like Ginny who, like me, defines herself as a “twoken…proudly representing not one, but two under represented­populations”.

Qui: What’s your definition of “smart”?

Julee: Aware, insightful, thought­through. Although thanks to my husband, I’ve now adopted the British meaning which is neat and stylish as in “that outfit looks smart.”

Qui: What would you picture yourself doing if you weren’t acting?

Julee: I’d like to think I’d be doing is something creative like screenwriting or playwriting or filmmaking. But if it weren’t arts­related, I’ve always had this fantasy of being a carpenter and building houses. I don’t know why. I just like the idea of creating things by hand.

Qui: In a previous interview, you stated “Don’t let fear rule you. Dare to try. Dare to fail.” I believe in being confident leads to success. How would you suggest one getting over the fear of failure?

Julee: Take an improv class. It’s scary as hell but incredibly exhilarating! And it’s refreshing to know your peers are in the same sinking boat as you are.

Qui: The Shakespeare Tavern is a gem here in Atlanta. Any spots you’re looking forward to visiting during your Atlanta residency?

Julee: I’m actually just looking forward to getting to know the neighborhoods of Atlanta a bit more. I hear East Atlanta, Little 5 Points, Virginia Highlands, Poncey­Highlands, Edgewood are all worth checking out. And I’m also really looking forward to trying out some delicious southern comfort food so suggestions welcome!

Qui: Who is someone in your life who can always make you laugh?

Julee: My 18 month ­old daughter, Emmett. She’s full of surprises and always up to something cheeky. For instance, she’ll come over to me to give me a hug and I’ll think “aw, how sweet!” and then I’ll suddenly realize my iPhone is missing from my pocket and she’s running away giggling.

Qui: I am a huge fan of House of Cards having grown up in D.C. area. What’s it like on set of House of Cards?

Julee: Amazing! The cast and crew are one of the nicest, most relaxed, and warmest people I’ve ever met on set which is funny because it’s such a stiff and chilling show.

Qui: Your go­to place for Korean cuisine & Dominican Republic cuisine in New York?

Julee: Definitely Flushing, Queens for some authentic Korean dining and Washington Heights for Dominican food. You have to go where the people are.

Qui: One sentence. What do you hope to be able to say 5 years from now?

Julee: “Siri, do my hair and makeup.”


Cover image via

Asian Americans Share Their Experiences With #BeingAsian

In this year alone, I’ve seen Asian Twitter blowing up my feed with different hashtag conversations including: #OscarsSoWhite, #PraisinTheAsian, #StarringJohnCho and #WhitewashedOUT. To continue the conversation, we saw another hashtag spark more tweets about the Asian American experience.

On Tuesday, 17-year-old Michael Tarui sent out the following tweet: “I’m in a group chat and we’ve decided we should start a conversation of what it’s like #BeingAsian and the racism that comes with it.”

The hashtag spread like wildfire in the Twitter-sphere as many people used it to share their experience of what it’s like to be Asian American. Many tweeted about the struggles of being profiled and/or not fitting the profile of what is perceived as “Asian,” as well as the the perpetuation of insensitive stereotypes like the Model Minority.

While the hashtag was meant to point out racism towards Asians, some also used it to hash out grievances within the Asian American community, specifically racism within the community towards other people of color.

Even with its serious purpose, the hashtag has also been used to spread humor and positivity.

While #BeginAsian has added more key points to the conversation within the Twitter-verse, I hope that we can keep the it going. In the meantime, we should all just follow the words of immigration activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas:


We Call Her Yolanda: A Story of Recovery

When Typhoon Haiyan, otherwise known as Typhoon Yolanda, hit the Philippines in 2013, the media was quick to deem the Philippine population as “resilient,” applauding the ability of the Filipino people to persevere in the face of one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

But shortly after the Typhoon settled, stories of the storm slowly disappeared from major media outlets; it seemed that the Typhoon had subsided into just another Southeast Asian storm. The Philippines, however, continued to face the havoc wreaked by Yolanda. The storm was indeed massive, and the disaster in its trail was seemingly irreconcilable. Yet the media failed to answer the question: What does recovery look like?

Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban
Producer May Tam and director Anthony Bari, Jr. shooting in San Jose, Tacloban

Anthony Bari, Jr., the director of We Call Her Yolanda, states that the documentary aims to answer just this. “The whole project is about recovery.” Bari clarifies, “This isn’t something [where] you can do a quick tuck and roll, and you’re back to living… It’s about growth.”

Of course, chronicling growth is a task that takes long-term commitment—and one that many, albeit with good intentions, fail to make. In contrast, the We Call Her Yolanda team has been back to Tacloban a total of four times and over these trips, the team became close to the people featured in the documentary—a family expecting a child, a fisherman, and several others. Anthony and his team were assisted by Alex Trinidad, a Filipino-American U.S. army veteran based in Manilla, whom Bari and Trinidad met during a relief operation in November 2013 where Trinidad helped guide and interpret for volunteers. 

Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.
Alex Trinidad playing ukulele on the shores of San Jose.

Logistically speaking, setting up the interviews was difficult. Many of the people in the film had no cell phones, and so meeting up operated on “an honor system,” Bari calls it. “It was like, ‘Okay, meet me by this tent or tree at about 3 o’clock your time.’”

And earning the trust of these individuals was also no easy feat. “Foreigners come in and they take some pictures and leave. We’re trying to do the exact opposite,” Bari says. “We’re trying to be part of it. We’re not trying to take what we got and run away.” In the beginning, “A camera was not even an option. It’s the worst thing, if you ask me, if you just go and shove a camera in someone’s face who’s been through a lot of stuff and lost members of their family, their household, their livelihood, their everything.”

Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.
Children light candles on the one year anniversary of the Typhoon, in honor of the Typhoon victims.

It is this commitment to interpersonal relationships that We Call Her Yolanda is founded on, a commitment that births an ingenuity from the subjects of the documentary. The film, Bari clarifies, is meant to serve not as a filtered nor nitpicked narrative, but instead, as a platform for these individuals’ stories, and aims to keep the integrity of these stories intact. “A lot of people think that it’s a normal, everyday thing—they never realize how big [the Typhoon was] because they’re watching it from their living room or on Facebook. It’s very disconnected the way you find out about these disasters.”

With this in mind, Bari states that the perspective is “not from the foreigner, but from the person on the ground.” The name of the film is derived from this notion as well. Bari points out that media outlets, specifically in the United States, call the storm “Typhoon Haiyan.” But in the Philippines, survivors call it “Yolanda.”

To this day—nearly three years after the Typhoon and miles away from Tacloban—Bari and the rest of the We Call Her Yolanda are still in close contact with the families and individuals they met in the Philippines.  When asked what comes after the film, Bari expresses that he wants to return back to Tacloban. He speaks of the fisherman who was interviewed for the film. “He needs a deep sea fishing boat,” Bari remembers. “If enough people pay attention to this project, we can go back there and actually buy the boat with him.”

Jaffery the fisherman and Anthony Bari, Jr., shooting on the sea.

Learn more about the film at


Images and video courtesy of We Call Her Yolanda