It’s an annual honor bestowed on a celebrity every year, but for Dwayne Johnson and the Asian American & Pacific Islander community, Johnson being named People’s Sexiest Man Alive, means a little more.
The half-Samoan, half-black actor is the first non-white male to receive the title since Denzel Washington in 1996—20 years ago! The last time an AAPI man won the honor was 1994 when Keanu Reeves garnered the title.
With the animated movie Moana due out before year’s end in which he voices the demigod Maui, several movies due out next year and starring in the HBO’s Ballers, Johnson topped the list of Hollywood’s A-list earners in 2016.
In an understatement, the busy actor says he feels like he’s reached a “pinnacle” point in his career.
Growing up in Honolulu, during his teen years, “I was unsure of who I was and who I wanted to be,” he told People Magazine.
This year, Johnson was named the highest-paid actor.
AAPI actors are not seen as box-office attractions, often passed over for White actors, even when the role calls for an AAPI actor. When will Hollywood producers and casting agents overcome their inherent bias against AAPI actors? With all the publicity surrounding diversity in the #OscarsSoWhite and #WhiteWashedOut controversies, maybe Johnson’s breakthrough will dispel their doubts.
Don’t hold your breath. Not much changed when Keanu Reeves was at the top of his popularity.
It will likely take Johnson, Reeves, along with Jackie Chan, Priyanka Chopra, Constance Wu, Daniel Dae Kim, Steven Yeun, Hailee Steinfeld and a host of others to achieve similar bankable status before the studio heads change their thinking.
More importantly — and more difficult — the aforementioned stars will have to start making noise by talking openly in all media available about the need for AAPI inclusion and identify themselves as AAPI every chance they get. Forget being “exotic” or “ethnically ambiguous,” or passing for White. They have to mention their roots as often as they can; not only for their personal well-being, but for all those who follow.
In an Instagram message announcing being name People Magazines Sexiest Man Alive, Johnson said, “Remember, sexy isn’t something you ‘try and be.’ Sexy happens naturally when you’re comfortable just being yourself.”