Nearly two decades after his Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder makes a super-sized return to the horror genre with Netflix's Army of the Dead — a heist movie that plays out against the backdrop of a zombie-infested Las Vegas. And for this Ocean's Eleven-meets-The Walking Dead romp, the director assembled the most diverse cast of his career, headed up by wrestler-turned-movie star Dave Bautista. Born in Washington D.C., Bautista is half-Filipino, and even has the Philippines flag tattooed on his shoulder. "I'm very proud of my heritage," he tells Yahoo Entertainment about being an Asian American action hero. "I'm very vocal about it." (Watch our video interview above.)
Bautista's front-and-center presence in a major motion picture matters more than ever at a time when the Asian American community has experienced rising levels of prejudice and violence. A mass shooting in Atlanta in March claimed the lives of six Asian women, one of a string of incidents that inspired prominent actors like Daniel Dae Kim and Mindy Kaling to denounce such crimes with the hashtag #StopAsianHate. And Bautista seizes the opportunity to add his voice to the chorus. "I just don't get prejudice, I don't get bigotry," he says. "I wasn't raised with it — it's so foreign to me. I don't understand why people are so hateful over such superficial things."
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"If I can be that guy and be an inspiration to somebody, then with pride I want to be that guy," he continues, getting visibly emotional. "I think it's a sign of people wanting to spread the message that this is who we are as a country: we're different people coming from different places, but if we bond together we can make s*** happen. Thank you for bringing that up: I have a whole new sense of pride of this role."
It's not as if Bautista has ever been shy about pushing back against the forces of prejudice and bigotry. The actor regularly calls out individuals like Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson on his lively Twitter feed. It's part of a concentrated effort on his part to show that the intolerant don't set the nation's agenda.
"There are more people pushing back than there are people who want to be stuck in the past — it's just that the people that are hateful and express bigotry are loud and aggressive," Bautista says. "Most people who want peace, love and harmony want to shy away from that, because it's unnecessary and low-class. I think there's more of us just starting to be like, 'We're not going to let you be louder than us anymore. We're tired of hearing from you, so we're going to be louder than you, and you're going to realize there's more of us than there are you."
And he's ready to continue representing Asian Americans onscreen in Army of the Dead as well as the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, which will conclude James Gunn's Marvel trilogy. Bautista's scene-stealing supporting role as Drax the Destroyer in the first Guardians movie rocketed him to big-screen stardom, and paved the way for him to lead his own team in Snyder's movie. "I wanted to be the leader, it was something I chased after," he says. "But I never felt like I was the center of attention on set, because if you watch the film, you see that every character gets their moment to shine."
Bautista believes that Netflix and Snyder were sending an intentional message with the film's diverse cast — a message that resonates with his own anti-prejudice agenda. "We have actors from all walks of life, backgrounds and colors with a killer movie," he notes. "Each of these characters could have interesting prequels, and that doesn't always happen. Usually supporting character get lost in the shuffle. Zack did a great job making sure every character was highlighted, and the film is this roller coaster ride of fun. I'm super-proud of it."
Army of the Dead premieres May 14 in theaters, and May 21 on Netflix
— Video produced by Kat Vasquez and edited by Valerie Volpacchio
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