May 30, 2017


Future Asian & Pacific History Month: Jason Momoa's Heroic Persona

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Fuse is celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History before our eyes. Today it's Jason Momoa, actor, director, writer, father and Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones.

The 37-year-old was born Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa in Honolulu and grew up with his mother in Norwalk, "a very white farm town in Iowa." He spent summers in his birthplace with his father, a native Hawaiian, or Kānaka Maoli. The year he turned 20, Momoa became Hawaii's Model of the Year and landed a role that would last through Baywatch's final two seasons, when it was rebranded Baywatch Hawaii. He went on to do the first and only season of the Hawaii-set North Shore and the majority of Stargate Atlantis' five-year run.

Then, of course, came Thrones. Though Momoa's Dothraki leader lasted just one season (married to the future conqueror-to-end-all-conquerors, a young Daenerys Targaryen), Khal Drogo became a fan-favorite. Speaking a made-up language didn't net him many new opportunities, so he wound up writing, directing and starring in Road to Paloma, a modern day Native American revenge thriller. It featured Cosby Show actress Lisa Bonet, Momoa's partner since 2005; they married in 2007 and have a 9-year-old daughter, Lola Iolani Momoa, and an 8-year-old son, Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa.

Momoa, whose grandmother has Pawnee ancestry, continued playing indigenous people on Frontier (as a part Irish, part Cree 18th century fur trader), which has a second season coming, and The Red Road, where he played a modern day Ramapough Lenape for the show's two-year run. “There aren’t a lot of shows about contemporary Native American people,” he told The Daily Beast. “It just turns into feathers and ridiculous stereotypes. Kill the Indian! So it’s special to honor these people who have been so dishonored.”

For his Thrones audition, Momoa famously surprise-performed the haka, a traditional Maori war dance/cry. He told

"I've been fascinated with Maori culture since I was a kid. We come from the same [Polynesian] culture. When I found out more about the Maori culture I fell in love with it, and with the people too. There's a lot of pride here which I love, being Hawaiian and being part of the U.S. I love, but our Hawaiian culture perishes a little bit, and it's really supported out here. There are few indigenous cultures that have done as well as the Maori."

Momoa's multicultural concerns have also manifested in activism. In 2015, he opposed the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope at the top of Mauna Kea volcano. "This is more than an issue for those living on the Big Island, this is [a] global issue of how we are treating our lands," he wrote on Instagram. "#WeAreMaunaKea represents all of us humans and [our] solidarity towards preserving our natural resources and protecting our native habitats." At the end of 2015, the Hawaii State Supreme Court revoked the permit. Progress has been stalled since.

He and his family also rallied with #NoDAPL protestors opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline being constructed through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. Giant studios can cringe at marquee talent speaking out politically, something Momoa's been running into since starting his DC days as Aquaman/Arthur Curry. (So far he's appeared hyper-briefly in Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.) He's been honest about the frustration, calling the restrictiveness "a real bummer" and saying, "[Studios] always want that but it’s like, at the end of the day, I gotta live with myself. You know what I mean? I don’t mind standing up for what I believe in."

Aquaman will finally get his shine with this November's Justice League, followed by a December 2018 solo movie stacked with talent like Amber Heard, Willem Defoe, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren and fellow Future Asian & Pacific History honoree Ludi Lin (Power Rangers). He's in the hands of Malaysian-born Australian director James Wan, whose hits include Furious 7, Insidious and Saw, and the role is genuinely significant to him, tentpole blockbuster or not:

“Aquaman is especially cool because being a Kanaka Maoli—being Hawaiian—our gods are Kanaloa and Maui, and the earth is 71 percent water, so I get to represent that. And I’m someone who gets to represent all the islanders, not some blond-haired superhero. It’s cool that there’s a brown-skinned superhero.”

He's also thrilled that his Batman-obsessed son and Wonder Woman–loving daughter can finally "see Daddy kicking ass in IMAX.” His spot in the DC Extended Universe has already "been the best moment of my career because the superhero roles are letting me get the other roles I want."

One such opportunity is a foray into comedy, alongside Will Ferrell. There's no better way to sum that news up than Momoa's own Instagram caption from earlier this month:

"When u wake up Read this throw on some ice cube and start blasting 'It was a good day.' running around the house like home alone Living the fucking dream WILL FERRELL is a god to me. I'm so fucking happy. cccccccccccooooooooommmmmmmeeeeeedddddddyyyyyyyyyyy. FINALLY Sorry about all the fucks I'm just really fucking happy."

He also might star in the Crow reboot, and after Aquaman has a personal project he wants to direct and star in, a Hawaiian story set in the 1790s. He calls it his dream role, and "a beautiful film" he "can't wait to show the world."

Tune in to Fuse and come back to every day for profiles, videos, galleries and more on the individuals around the world who are creating Future Asian and Pacific History. Join the conversation with FutureHistory and find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.

Next, hear Fuse's Back of the Class podcast get revved up for Game of Thrones Season 7 at the 38-minute mark: