The singer-actor’s 40-year career shows the power of representation and stories as she receives a TIME100 Impact Award.
The Philippines may not yet have its own Filipino Disney Princess, but we have Lea Salonga. The singer and actress has not only given life to many characters—the titular heroine in Mulan (1998) and Jasmine in Aladdin (1992)—but has constantly championed representation on a global scale. For her work on screen and as a role model behind it, Time Magazine recently named her as one of its TIME100 Impact Award recipients this 2022. The 51-year-old legend is set to receive the award in the National Gallery Singapore on October 2.
Time founded the award earlier this year to recognize “global leaders who have gone above and beyond to move their industries—and the world—forward.” Set to walk alongside her are fellow awardees, such as evolutionary and computational geneticist Dr. Pardis Sabeti, former James Webb Space Telescope program director Gregory L. Robinson, and actor and producer Alia Bhatt.
Highlights from Salonga’s four-decade career include a Laurence Olivier Award and a Tony for her breakout performance in Miss Saigon. She also has a Disney Legend Award for being the singing voice of two legendary Princesses. Beyond the stage, Salonga has appeared in films and shows like Yellow Rose and Allegiance, even coming on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as a special guest. She also played the part of Elodie in the 2022 Pretty Little Liars reboot, Original Sin.
Past her performances, Salonga is known to use her platform to speak out against issues such as the lack of racial diversity in theater. In response to an agent who wrote that minority actors were putting white performers out of work, Salonga tweeted, “The point is thus: for the longest time, we people of color don’t always see ourselves represented on stage, film or TV. We should celebrate that we’re now able to, more than before.”
She also took part in the online movement #MyYellowFaceStory to share their experiences working through discrimination. As Time writes, “Salonga has emerged as not only a Disney and Broadway icon, but a role model for children of color.”
Here are just a few of Salonga’s unforgettable roles through the years:
Lea Salonga’s big break came when she was cast as Kim in Miss Saigon at just 18 years old. Her West End run, which lasted from 1989 to 1990, won her a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her subsequent Broadway run from 1991 to 1993, won her a Tony Award for Best Actress—she became the first Asian actress to win the prestigious award. She was later invited back to close both productions.
Mulan and Aladdin
Salonga is perhaps best known by some audiences as the singing voice behind some of the most memorable Disney Films—Aladdin (1992) and Mulan (1998). Lending her voice to these heroines, Salonga made history yet again. Jasmine was Disney’s first princess of color, while Mulan was the entertainment behemoth’s first Asian princess. Mulan was also the first and only Disney princess to break the rules by going against gender expectations while fighting for her family. Both movies led to Salonga receiving a Disney Legend award almost two decades later in 2011.
After her success in Miss Saigon and Aladdin, Salonga went on to join the cast of Les Misérables, West End’s longest running musical. She became the first Asian woman to take on the role of Eponine when she joined the Broadway version on the production. In the 2006 Broadway revival of the musical, Salonga switched roles and played Fantine, this time singing “I Dreamed A Dream” instead of “On My Own.”
Sana Maulit Muli
The singer returned to the Philippines after her success as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin to portray Agnes in the film Sana Maulit Muli (“I hope it happens again”). She starred opposite Aga Muhlach who played Jerry, her lover. The couple’s relationship is tested when Agnes moves to the United States to work. The 1995 film received critical acclaim, winning Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the Gawad Urian awards.
Salonga returned to the big screen in the 2019 film Yellow Rose. The musical drama follows the story of Rose, played by Eva Noblezada, as she navigates her life in the US as an undocumented immigrant. Rose’s unsympathetic aunt Gail is played by Salonga—who says she was drawn to the challenge of playing such a complex and unlikeable character in a movie that tackles hard-hitting and relevant topics. The critically acclaimed film was directed by Filipino filmmaker Diane Paragas and went on to win a Special Jury Award at the Asian American International Film Festival in 2019, as well as Grand Jury Prizes at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Bentonville Film Festival, and CAAMFest 37 the same year.