Here at SDN we could spend any given day listing reasons why we admire Harry. But since today is his birthday, we put some of our favorite ones together.
Dancer, writer, producer, director, and actor – Harry Shum Jr. is certainly a man of many talents. If we were to ask people to describe him, we’re pretty sure the adjectives would never stop coming. And who could blame them? It is impossible for us to simply name one thing that is admirable about him when he just keeps on giving us more and more reasons to like him with every year. To celebrate Harry’s 37th birthday, join us as we reflect on some of the reasons why Harry Shum Jr. deserves to be a sought-after actor not only in the 2019 pilot season, but always.
His dedication to representation
While Harry’s career is nothing short of diverse, there is one red thread that runs through all of his projects: his dedication to representation. On Glee, Harry’s character Mike Chang was originally written as “the other Asian”. However, the work Harry put into his character combined with how fans instantly took a liking to his portrayal of Mike enabled him to depict a character that went beyond the stereotypical portrayal of Asian characters.
Though Glee ended in 2015, Harry’s efforts to step away from the stereotypical representation of characters continued. On Shadowhunters, one of the key aspects of Magnus Bane’s character has always been how he defies the attributes typically assigned to bisexuals. This is both due to the crew consulting GLAAD to ensure they wouldn’t unconsciously add to the archaical stereotypes, and due to Harry’s dedication to his character. Whether if it’s correcting media and various people who mislabel Magnus or intentionally highlighting the fact that Magnus is indeed bisexual, and proud of it, Harry has always been Magnus’ number one defender.
In 2017, it was announced that Harry would take part in the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s hugely successful novel Crazy Rich Asians. With the movie making more than $237 million worldwide and being the highest grossing romantic comedy in the past decade, it is safe to say that it was a roaring success. The main reason for this can be assigned to the fact that its cast consisted solely of Asians. While Harry’s character has so far merely had a minor role, Harry’s aspiration to defy stereotypes and smash the box that people are sometimes so fond of thinking inside of has been evident ever since his casting was announced. Crazy Rich Asians is a part of the wave of fresh air coming through Hollywood with movies like Black Panther and Get Out being so successful, and Harry is no small part of this. With the sequels China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems being filmed back-to-back, we have no doubt that Harry will continue his resilient work to defy stereotypes and capture uniqueness – both in the portrayal of Charlie Wu, and with his other upcoming projects.
How hard-working he is
Harry has starred in a broad variety of projects in his career – from multiple projects as a choreographer to the role of Cable in Step Up, to Mike Chang on Glee to Magnus Bane on Shadowhunters to Peter in Single by 30 and Charlie Wu in Crazy Rich Asians. While his resumé includes a wide variety of TV shows, movies, and projects, the majority of his co-workers have all said the same thing: that he is relentlessly hard-working, and an absolute joy to work with.
One of the turning points of Harry’s career came with the role of Mike Chang on Glee. Throughout the show, Harry used the opportunities that could help him develop Mike’s role, and thus help him advance as an actor. However, he also made a point of realizing when to step back, mastering the art of biding his time and never giving up his pursuit. To say that this turned out well would be the understatement of the century – seeing the popularity of Harry’s character, Glee’s showrunners saw no choice but to make Harry a series regular, and develop Mike’s character.
This, in turn, proved to be a stepping stone for Harry in his career, moving on from the show and landing roles in high-profile projects such as Shadowhunters, Crazy Rich Asians, Escape Plan: The Extractors, and most recently ABC’s Heart of Life. Throughout all of his projects, Harry’s persistent hard work has been a cornerstone of their – as well as his personal – success. “I know what my talents are,” Harry told Vulture in 2010. “I know things will happen, and it’s just a matter of time.” Having seen how Harry’s career has developed since then, we can’t help but think that he’s right – and that his time is in fact only just beginning.
How he’s one of the forefront advocates for Asian Americans in Hollywood
With the success of his most recent projects, such as Shadowhunters and Crazy Rich Asians, Harry has been getting a lot of public attention (as he should). Not only has he used that attention to further his own career, but more importantly to give a voice to those who are usually overheard or don’t get the opportunity to speak up in the first place. One of those groups have been Asian-American artists in Hollywood and the Asian-American community in general, which Harry has been advocating for not only since he got cast on Crazy Rich Asians. It is because of that movie, however, that the issues of proper representation, whitewashing and stigmatization of Asian roles in mainstream movies have become more visible to the public eye than ever. Together with the cast and crew of Crazy Rich Asians Harry has made use of that attention in a variety of different ways. Of course, they participated in press and promotion activities as it is habit for wide release movies on the scale of Crazy Rich Asians. But they also went beyond that: from speaking in front of a lecture hall full of students in Boston, to buying out theatres for Crazy Rich Asians to just keeping the debate going in public by speaking up on it whenever possible.
As a recent study shows, they had every right to: According to the University of Southern California’s 2018 Hollywood Diversity report, which focuses on films and TV shows made between 2011 and 2016, only 13.9% of lead actors cast in top theatrical films in 2016 were people of color. In absolute numbers that means not even 2 out of every 10 main roles that year were played by an actor who is a person of color. Needless to say that those numbers are in great need of improvement, especially considering this is the 21st century we are talking about. The efforts of Harry and his castmates were an important step into the right direction and towards changing the game once and for all.
How he’s made Charlie Shum a celebrity of his own
Harry and his wife Shelby welcomed their first daughter last month (check here for their sweet Instagram announcement welcoming baby Xia), but before that, they already had a son: Their dog Charlie, who joined their family when Harry was filming Glee and has been part of it for quite some time now. Sometime along the way, Charlie also became a very welcome part of our Instagram feeds, as both Harry and Shelby keep their fans updated with cute pics of Charlie whenever they can. But not just that – Charlie has also stepped into his parents’ footsteps and made his debut on the small screen in a McCafé commercial Harry starred in back in 2017. Now that little Xia is here, Charlie probably has to decline lots of offers for big parts in even bigger Hollywood productions as he is likely busy being an older brother, but we’re sure that new role will suit him just as fine.
How he, let’s face it, is a fashion icon
We may or may not have an entire article on this topic coming up soon, so we don’t want to talk about it that much but… can we talk about the fact that Harry Shum Jr. is one of the best-dressed people in Hollywood? Whether it’s for fancy occasions such as the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards or just a casual event like a press day or a convention to meet fans, Harry has served some serious looks in the past. We especially love that his outfits for red carpets or other fancy events are always elegant and timeless, yet he’s not one to shy away from a bold color statement or a gorgeous sparkling jacket. He is one of those actors who prove that you can change the fashion game in Hollywood, that it doesn’t always have to be dull dark suits and white shirts for premieres, and we are here for every sequined jacket and plaid suit along the way.
How he embodies his characters
A lot can be said about the characters Harry has portrayed over the years – one of them being how Harry fully commits himself to them. Whether if he’s portraying a Warlock with sparkling blue magic at the tips of his fingers, a 30-year-old trying to figure out what walking the path of life means to him, a self-made millionaire running a technology company, a brilliant dancer, a cop, or a high school student, there is no telling where the character ends and Harry begins.
In all of his projects, the common denominator is that Harry gives his all in depicting his characters. They come alive with every gesture, look and movement that Harry puts into them, and are given a life of their own where they continue to live on long after the screen has faded to black and the last “Cut!” has been declared. It is one of the most prominent testaments to Harry’s character. He does not merely portray his characters for the amount of time that it takes to complete a project or the duration of the finished product. He gives his characters so much authenticity and life that fans all over the world relate to them and create their own attachments to them, helping to give them eternal life and further establishing his unique talent.
How he used his obstacles to grow stronger
While mental health conditions are on the rise, it is a topic that is all too rarely discussed. That is precisely why it is so refreshing to see someone like Harry so openly discuss his issues and both helping others and giving them strength. In the past, Harry has been very vocal about how he struggled to overcome his shyness when he was younger, and how it many times felt as if he was in a shell. In 2013, he choreographed a beautiful contemporary piece, accompanied by a voiceover by Ze Frank. “This is Harry. As a boy, Harry was very, very shy. Some people might’ve even said that he was painfully shy – as if his shyness caused them pain, and not the other way around,” Frank says as Harry moves in and through colors.
Along with being a visual work of art, the video to this day gives a voice to those who sometimes feel as if no one can hear them. “If you, right now, are in a shell, you should know that you’re not alone, that there are many, many other people like you, and that there is nothing wrong with you,” the video concludes, serving as a beacon of hope in what can sometimes feel as an overwhelming darkness.
Harry has previously been open about the amount of work it’s taken for him to overcome his shyness, and how it’s something that is a continuous battle. He’s spoken extensively about how art has helped him fight his battles, and how it’s made him more confident and stronger. In doing so, he is an example to everyone fighting what sometimes feels like an impossible battle in and against their own heads, sharing some of his strength, and in turn multiplying it and spreading it to those who need it.
How he uses his platform for good
With over 2 million followers on Instagram and 1.2 million on Twitter, it is safe to say that Harry has a massive social media following. One look at his profiles also tells us that he’s using the impact he has to good. While most of the posts he shares are from his various projects, the food he’s eaten or Charlie’s latest adventures, he also makes sure to highlight the matters close to his heart, such as LGBTQIA+ topics, representation in Hollywood and gender equality.
Doing this not only showcases part of who Harry is as a person. By vocalizing the topics that matter to him, he highlights them to a much broader audience, using the voice that his platform has given him to call attention to these topics and educate people on their importance.
His sense of humor
If you’ve ever been a part of one of the #ShadowhuntersChats, or you’ve watched even one of Harry’s Instagram stories, you’ve probably gotten both one and two glimpses at his sense of humor. Whether he’s making fun of himself or poking fun while live-tweeting episodes of Shadowhunters, his ability to make us laugh never fails. And let’s be real – sometimes a laugh is desperately needed in a world that most of the time tends to be all too bleak.
Harry does not only share his sense of humor with his fans. In not taking himself too seriously and being willing to make fun of himself, he invites fans to get to know him, letting them see another side of him. In doing this, Harry makes his fans feel more like his friends, letting them see glimpses into his life and what makes him laugh. If you ever need a laugh, we guarantee that Harry can provide it – and it is yet another one of the reasons why we adore him.
How he never forgets his origins
Throughout his career, Harry has never attempted to overlook where he’s from. Quite the contrary – his pride in his upbringing has always been evident, and something he’s highlighted time and time again.
Harry has made a point of openly speaking about his heritage, being born in Costa Rica and moving to America at a young age, and what him identifying as both Asian-American and Latino means to him. “It’s strange that I am full Chinese and born in a Latin country, but I love the fact that I was immersed in that culture at birth while maintaining my Chinese roots,” he said when talking about it.
Beyond that, Harry has always been vocal about his upbringing, talking openly about working in his parents’ restaurant ever since he was young and thus learning the value of hard work. Harry’s story is not one in a million, nor is it the last of its kind. What’s rare is how open Harry has always been about it. Even after his career took off and he started making a name for himself, Harry never attempted to disguise his past. Instead, he let it be a cornerstone of his identity and his career, making it part of the foundation of his strength and using it to push for more accurate – and visible – representation in Hollywood. Never allowing it to become his sole defining characteristic, Harry has always showcased his identity on his own terms.
Another reason why Harry’s fans love him so much is that he is authentic. His day job may be to slip into many different roles and portray a vast array of characters, yet when it comes to himself, he doesn’t put up any masks. It’s that authenticity that makes him so easily likable and also relatable. He wouldn’t have gotten where he is today had he relied on pretense and fake behavior. And that’s one of the messages he keeps sending to his fans, whether it’s by listening to their stories, advocating in favor of minorities, attending the GLAAD awards or another way of encouraging them to live their truth and be who they are, regardless of what others may think.
How he always chooses kindness
There are lots of things that we love about Harry, but one of our favorites will probably always be his kindness towards his fans. Whether it’s online or in person – Harry knows how much interacting with their idol means to fans and has made sure people know in return that he appreciates their support. Generally, by interacting with them online and by participating in fan conventions all over the world, but more recently by going through hundreds of very personal fan stories sent to him as part of the #MassiveMagnusFan giveaway, where he raffled the iconic maroon coat Magnus Bane wore in episodes 3×09 and 3×10 of Shadowhunters. The coat ended up making the lucky winner very happy (we’re still a little emo about her pictures and the tweets she posted when the package arrived).
But it didn’t stop there – Harry not only sent the coat to the winner of the giveaway but also made sure to pick a few “honorable mentions” whose stories had particularly spoken to him. Those people also received a little package from him – complete with a little goodie in the form of a Malec t-shirt, a signed Magnus poster and a personalized little note from Harry. If you haven’t already, check out the giveaway hashtag on Twitter – not just for pictures of the coat and packages for the runner-ups, but more importantly for the contributions posted in order to participate. They show just how much Magnus Bane has meant to so many people around the world and are all deeply personal, moving and incredibly inspiring.
Anyone who has met Harry in person, for example at some of the numerous conventions that have become a fixed part in the vacation plans of many Shadowhunters fans around the world, will confirm that he is not only pretending to be kind online – he really is an incredibly nice and friendly person. Events and conventions, in particular, can be stressful, especially for the guests attending. And if you’ve met Harry, you’ll probably agree that he is more on the shy side than some of his other castmates from Shadowhunters – yet he still makes sure to exchange a few words with everyone attending his autograph sessions, photo shoots or meet & greets and listen to what they have to say to him. He makes sure that every fan attending has a good time, and leaves the convention with immeasurable, dear memories they’ll always cherish. These things may seem small, but they really go a long way, especially in fandoms. It’s not a coincidence that Harry went from write-in nominee to Male TV Star winner at the 2018 People’s Choice Awards – over the past few years, Harry has certainly given his fans lots of good reasons to cast their votes for him. And it’s also not a coincidence how his fanbase has just continued to grow, with him always providing all the more reasons to admire him.
Trying to describe Harry and who he is, is all but impossible. His identity is made up of a kaleidoscope of different colors, each representing a different part of him. It is impossible to bring attention to just one side of him – one is not complete without the other. Whether if we’re talking about Harry the terrific cook, hard-working actor, extraordinary dancer, kind-hearted person or just all-around multi-faceted human being, one thing is certain: Harry Shum Jr. is here to stay, and we cannot wait to see where his career takes him next.
Swedish-Austrian writing duo that the rest of the SDN team probably still regrets creating (we may or may not have a problem with keeping our articles short). When we’re not busy with late-night writing sessions or struggling to find the perfect headline, we like to work on our escape plan because there is no way the team will let us live after writing another 10+ pages piece. However, if you‘re reading this, it means they let us get away with another monster, so yay us.