Hollywood Korean-American actor, Justin H. Min has always been proud of his heritage, and his career is lifting off as the industry feature Asian men in more and bigger roles. But that newfound abundance of available work, coupled with a horrifying spike of AAPI attacks during the pandemic, means grappling with his ethnic identity—and what the roles he chooses ‘mean’—in a way he’s never had to before.
The self-help books are…helping. “For eight or nine years, I was purely in survival mode to get the next job,” Min says in an interview. “For the first time in my life, I can ease off the accelerator a bit and try to grow in some other areas.”
Min’s parents immigrated from South Korea to Cerritos, a heavily Asian suburb of Los Angeles, where he was raised. Unlike many Asian Americans, Min didn’t grow up feeling like a minority as he grew up surrounding his culture, so he never felt insecure about his identity or speaking up.
The 32-year-old actor’s confidence developed as he grew up and worked in Asian-led environments, and it eventually carried over to his job in Hollywood. Working in the industry, he tried avoiding causing a fuss, “But the moment I started to speak up and advocate for myself, it was a shock [for many people].” Min said in an interview.
Following the first season of Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy”, Min raised a few concerns with the producers over how his character was evolving as he wants to depict someone that people can relate to.
“It’s incredibly admirable because speaking up isn’t easy. It’s a reflection of his sincerity, courage, and genuine care.” Min’s co-star, Elliot Page, said in an interview.
When the show began shooting its third season in February, Min says the crew was the most diverse he had ever worked with.
He recently starred in the 2021 drama film “After Yang” with Colin Farrell, which depicts a sparse near-future tale in which Min plays Yang, an android purchased by a family to help raise and connect their adopted daughter with her Chinese heritage.
The film delves into the same identity issues that Min is interested in: A character wonders, “What makes someone Asian?” in one scene.
Written and directed by South Korean indie auteur Kogonada, he says that Yang represents “a corporation’s construct of Asian-ness”—a powerful metaphor for virtually every Asian American’s pursuit of identity and belonging while feeling caught between cultures and communities.
“His journey is my journey,” Min says of Yang, “and I think a similar journey to all of us who are Asian in America. Look, I grew up speaking the language, I grew up eating Asian food, I went to Korean school on Saturdays. Does that make me Korean? I don’t know. It’s something I grapple with all the time. I mean, I look Korean, I look Asian. Is that what makes me Korean? I don’t know if I’ll fully get to an answer, but the exploration is part of the fun and the journey