The nation’s largest and longest-running Asian and Pacific Islander awards show, Unforgettable Gala, also known as UNFO, delivered major moments of surprise and delight at its annual celebration of API excellence and representation in entertainment, arts and culture. Character Media marked the gala’s 20th anniversary by honoring luminaries from the API community and presenting awards to the year’s biggest successes in film, television, music and more.
Themed “Illuminate” for 2022 and presented by Lexus, the Unforgettable Gala brought together API luminaries of past decades, including Apl.de.Ap, Daniel Dae Kim, Will Yun Lee, Lisa Ling, Rizwan Manji, Michelle Phan, Maggie Q, and Daniel Wu—all legendary artists who have paved the way for API representation within their respective industries. This year’s luminaries participated by performing or presenting awards at the gala, passing the baton to the next generation of talent.
“It wasn’t until I actually logged in on YouTube, and I genuinely saw other Asians, and I actually saw myself,” said Bretman Rock on stage, as he accepted the Digital Influencer Award. “It really wasn’t until Michelle Phan—all I ever really saw in the beauty industry was really pioneered by an Asian woman. But I also saw Ryan Higa making videos, and I wanted to be on Wong Fu Productions so bad, and I was on Jubilee, and it’s really so weird getting this award after Jason (Y. Lee). All of that just to say, how grateful I am, my generation having so many options when it comes to expressing ourselves… our possibilities are endless.”
Opening the show with a medley of iconic hits and new music by Black Eyed Peas, luminary Apl.de.Ap was joined on stage by fellow Filipino vocalist J. Rey Soul and Malaya Dance Arts, bringing the audience to their feet as everyone sang and danced along. Closing out the gala, “Turning Red”‘s animated boy band 4*Town was brought to life and introduced to the stage by Simu Liu and Rosalie Chiang. The live rendition of “1 True Love” and the Grammy-nominated hit “Nobody Like U” by the fictitious cartoon pop stars, led by Josh Levi, Topher Ngo and Grayson Villanueva, had the audience on their feet again and celebrating, ready to storm the after-party.
Sean Astin and Jeff Cohen of “The Goonies” also made a special appearance to present the Actor in Film Award to their fellow Goonie brother, Ke Huy Quan, for his outstanding performance in the hit film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Pledging, “Goonies never die!” Astin and Cohen celebrated the reunion with Quan, and went on to take photos together in the VIP Lexus Portraits Lounge.
Gala guests were welcomed to dinner by hosts James Ryu, publisher of Character Media, and his wife Tammy. Following dinner, luminaries Daniel Dae Kim and Lisa Ling, who served as this year’s selection committee co-chairs, delivered keynote remarks before gala emcee Eugene Cordero took the stage. The first Filipino to host UNFO, Cordero delivered a night of laughs and entertainment.
Actors Greta Lee and Kara Wang presented the Breakout in TV honor to Minha Kim of “Pachinko,” followed by actor Harry Shum, Jr. and last year’s emcee Sherry Cola, who presented the Breakout in Film Award to Stephanie Hsu of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Returning to present the Community Impact Award on behalf of her parents, the co-founders of Panda Express, Andrea Cherng joined comedian Jimmy O. Yang on stage to honor athlete Jeremy Lin with the Community Impact Award for Lin’s charity work through the Jeremy Lin Foundation. Entrepreneur Cassey Ho of Blogilates and actor Richa Moorjani presented the Pechanga Athlete on Another Level honor to snowboarding phenomenon and two-time Olympic gold medalist Chloe Kim.
Other live performances included Norwegian Japanese vocalist Angelina Jordan and Indian cultural dance troupe Joya Kazi Entertainment, presented by luminaries Daniel Wu and Will Yun Lee. Continuing the awards presentation, Bella Poarch and luminary Michelle Phan presented the Digital Influencer Award to Bretman Rock. Last year’s director honoree Destin Daniel Cretton presented this year’s award to “Everything Everywhere All at Once” directors, the Daniels. “Turning Red” actor Sandra Oh presented the Writer Award to the film’s screenwriters, Domee Shi and Julia Cho, while luminaries Rizwan Manji and Maggie Q presented the Actor in TV honor to “Station Eleven” star Himesh Patel. Director Lee Isaac Chung presented “Minari” star Steven Yeun with the Lexus Legacy honor, joined on stage by Lexus executive Lisa McQueen. The final award, the Vanguard honor, was presented to the cast and crew of “Pachinko” by previous Writer Award recipient Adele Lim and author Jenny Han.
Marking 20 years of excellence in the API community, the Unforgettable Gala is proud to celebrate API luminaries of past decades while celebrating this year’s honorees and calling upon the community to illuminate the path forward for the next generation of API talent. Founded in 2002, the black-tie event was created by James Ryu, founder and publisher of award-winning magazines KoreAm Journal, Audrey Magazine, Kore Asian Media and Character Media, all of which have highlighted API changemakers making their mark. Last year’s UNFO honorees included John Cho, Sean Miyashiro, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, amongst many others. Led by presenting sponsor Lexus, additional Unforgettable Gala sponsors include Joseon Empire, Society 1, Pechanga Resort Casino, Le Mieux Skincare, J&K Gouw Foundation, and Panda Restaurant Group.
Highlights from last year’s UNFO celebration can be found at https://youtu.be/66Lq2U7VznE. Follow Character Media and tag #UNFO on Facebook (@CharacterMediaCom), Twitter (@Character_Media), Instagram (@Character.Media) and TikTok (@charactermedia).