Criss wins praise for FilAm pride

Best Actor in Limited TV Series winner Darren Criss pays tribute to his mom Cerina. SCREEN GRAB

FOR Filipino Americans, this year’s Golden Globes went beyond fulfilling its promise of inclusion.

Thanks to his acceptance speech for Best Actor in a Limited TV Series, Darren Criss gave millions watching the annual awards show staged by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association another view of immigrants and a closer look at Filipino Americans.


“…I am so enormously proud to be a teeny, tiny part of that as the son of a firecracker Filipino woman from Cebu that dreamed of coming to this country and getting to be invited to cool parties like this. So, mom, I know you’re watching this, you are hugely responsible for most of the good things in my life. I love you dearly, I dedicate this to you,” Criss weighed in on his role in the clamor for representation of people of color in the entertainment industry.


Criss, almost 32, won for the same role that nabbed him an Emmy last year playing Andrew Cunanan, who allegedly shot and killed Gianni Versace in Miami in the summer of 1997.  “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” was the second season of the FX anthology “American Crime Story.”


Criss, like Cunanan, is half-Filipino.  His father Charles Criss is Caucasian.  While Cunanan reportedly told tall tales about his Filipino father’s wealth and power, Criss lovingly noted his Cebuana mother, Cerina Bru, as being starstruck.


“I’ve said this before, but being half- Filipino is one of my favorite things about me,” Criss told reporters later backstage. “I feel like I have been given a superhero cape and I am glad to step up to that plate.”

He added, “It’s a great privilege — and I am proud to be part of that.”


Philippine Consul General in San Francisco Henry S. Bensurto Jr. appreciated the publicly-aired sentiments by the first-known Golden Globe winner own his Filipino descent.


“It is inspiring to know that actor Darren Criss feels it is a great privilege to be the first Filipino American to win a Golden Globe award,” the envoy told this writer. “His declaration of pride for being a Filipino-American is certainly a great boost to our mission to spark love of the Philippines among Millennials and the younger generation and to honor our Filipino heritage. We hope that other youths could relate to his fervor and make the most of their being born of Filipino and foreign heritage.”


Criss, a San Francisco native, also gave a shoutout to one of the Golden Globe Awards executive producers and former Philippine News entertainment columnist Janet Nepales, whose husband Ruben Nepales is a former HPFA president. Criss acknowledged the FilAm Hollywood insiders “for being in my corner from day 1.”


“So so proud of him,” hailed Gio Espiritu, who co-starred with Criss in “I Adora You” directed by a FilAm director, Jess dela Merced.  “Not only is it a win for Filipinos but also Bay Area talent!”

Criss soared to stardom on the TV musical series “Glee,” produced by Ryan Murphy, an executive producer with ACS.


Playing a Filipino for the first time as Cunanan was “really an amazing serendipity,” Criss told Vulture in an interview last spring.  He said he “lucked out” on getting the part, sharing the subject’s “ethnic makeup, more or less.”


In the same interview, he stressed that “one of my favorite things about myself is that I’m half-Filipino but I don’t look like it…I just look like a Caucasian guy, which is nice.  I’ve got the multi-ethnic thing going on.  People think I’m like Italian or Mediterranean.  No, my mom’s very Filipino,.  I grew up with a Filipino mom.  Anyone who’s grown up in that world know that’s a thing you share.”


Criss admitted in the interview that he does not identify as Asian American because doing so would “be unfair” as it would “sound like I’m reaching for the minority card on a college application.”


He continued, “But maybe it’s because of the way I look.  Maybe if I looked a little more pan-Asian and I was put in that box then I would be like ”Yeah, I identify as Asian American,’ but maybe because the obstacles that may come up haven that I don’t think about it.”


The statement gave pause to some bloggers who felt they were thrown shade by the actor by saying he “didn’t look like it (Filipino or Asian).”


Espiritu, who stars on Amazon Prime’s “Dyke Central” and was a regular on “ER”, offers another perspective.


“I think he definitely has an upper hand and privilege because he looks Caucasian and he’s a male,” she reacted to Criss’ candid self-assessment.  “Most of the roles in the industry cater to that demographic, but I appreciate he makes the point to be proud of his Filipino blood. It makes us more visible… even if just a wee bit more. We definitely need more writers that write substantial roles for women of color. Even the Asian roles that are out there, sometimes Filipinas aren’t ‘Asian’  enough.”

Criss won his trophy from a field of acclaimed fellow nominees Antonio Banderas (for Genius: Picasso“), Daniel Brühl (“The Alienist”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”) and Hugh Grant (“A Very English Scandal”). 


The 2009 BA in Fine Arts alum from the University of Michigan is engaged to writer-producer Mia Swier.  He will be up for another award for the same role in the 25th SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards on Jan. 27.