Having any sort of comfort with the unknown is a hard climb in life in which many of whom still struggle to obtain today. It is important to know that the key is to have utmost trust with whatever lies ahead and within oneself in order to survive. A creative soul, Filipino American actress Monica Joelle Ortiz, inspires her audience with strength and fearlessness that made her pursue her goals unapologetically. “I’ve grown to embrace the inevitable failures of life,” she shares. A quality worthy of a warrior and maybe even of a modern day princess.
To that note the latest warrior that people are getting to love, is Disney’s newest princess: Raya. A Southeast Asian inspired character, who unlike Monica, has some serious trust issues. It took her one hell of an adventure before she got around to embrace how to actually trust others. This is quite understandable given what she has gone through in life (nope, we’re not going to give out any spoilers so find out by watching the film set to be released this March 5). Does her situation sound familiar? Well the newest addition to the Disney princess lineup makes for a relatable character. The protagonist experiences a strong character development and transformation having developed strength and a sense of belief in herself.
Monica, on the other hand, is admittedly lucky for having the best family and friends. “I’ve won the lottery of having the best family, boyfriend, and friends which has truly allowed for me to be okay if something I want to happen doesn’t go as planned,” she quips. She wasn’t alone and such support made her fierce in facing life’s challenges. This is not to say that Raya didn’t have her own tribe to rely on, but rather this is to highlight the fact that it helps when one has a strong foundational support system to accompany them in pursuing their goals.
Despite minor differences, the staggering similarity of both Raya and Monica is their unique Southeast Asian background. Judging by the 366k views and 75k likes of her recent Tiktok video that showcased her cosplaying the warrior, you could safely say that they are absolutely both beautiful which will make you have a second look given the similarities of their features. It’s as if they’re the same and you’re actually looking at Raya in the flesh.
Monica has been advocating for proper representation of minority groups in the media and one of her ways is cosplaying. Apart from her love in dressing up, her background working as a performer at the Disney parks also played a huge factor. It was through her job that she realized that there needed to be more representation even among characters. She realized that during her time as a performer, she wasn’t fully connected to the characters she would play unlike her recent cosplay of Raya. “After performing at the Disney parks and bringing other characters to life that I don't ethnically connect with, something about Raya just felt right for me to cosplay. Not only can I relate to her personality and appearance but also her culture and ethnicity to some degree as well. Raya and all that she represents is so special to me,” she says.
Interestingly, she noted that although she’s no expert at cosplaying, it is something that she enjoys as it allows her to collaborate with some of her talented friends. Being the lucky social butterfly that she is, she did not go through the Raya cosplay thrill alone. After all, Raya herself did not find the last dragon without friends. Compared to the movie, the team behind Monica’s cosplay were actually all composed of Southeast Asian backgrounds. “The entire team who helped make this happen are of Southeast Asian descent. The two people who made the costume are Vietnamese Americans, Nam Mai and Duy Truong, the Salakot hat was provided by my Filipino American friend Shilyn Joy, the photographer was also Duy and the videographer was a Filipino American named Nicalyn aka Tripalyn Art. My brother Joel also helped organize everything as well,” she shares. True enough, their dedication to the execution of an almost real-life Raya ultimately received warm feedback from the Asian American community. “Seeing the pictures and videos was such a surreal feeling,” she says excitedly.
Monica is currently working on her short film entitled “Strangers” for the AAPI short film contest. But before she got busy she realized that one of the most amazing things she learned is that the online space can be brimming with kindness not only with her cosplays but also in her other crafts like filmmaking when her content is something that hits close to home to her target audience. “My content online is all about uplifting our people through sharing our culture, history, about solidarity within other minority groups, and elevating the importance of positive representation in [the] media,” she shares. She has already formed a strong audience on her Instagram and Tiktok with 17.5k and 211k total number of followers respectively.
Truly, Monica’s desire to uplift Asian representation doesn’t stop there. She also is very much willing to mentor those who would like to walk the path she is on. She will be able to give her two cents on how to maneuver the chaos of social media into finding what fuels your passion to stay consistent in creating.
That being said, Monica believes that it’s crucial to stay true to yourself most especially when trying to take up space as a minority. “Authenticity is such a beautiful quality that this industry needs more of,” she shares. She also notes that it is also important to create opportunities for yourself. “If there are no projects happening, find ways to create yourself, and most importantly put content out whenever and wherever you can,” she says as consistency is definitely key to breaking in the industry. She further guarantees that slow and steady in the right direction will still lead to growth. Indeed such wise words, worthy of being called a Disney warrior princess.
It is vital to remember that each of us are undergoing our own respective adventures and that what matters most is apart from finding the kindness and strength in others, we must also look for it within ourselves.
Catch the premiere of Disney’s Raya and The Last Dragon this March 5 in theaters and on Disney+
For Monica Joelle Ortiz’s bookings and inquiries you may visit Linktree.com/monicajoelleo. For more information on the Raya cosplay team see details below:
Raya - Monica Joelle Ortiz
Photography - Duy Truong (@cafededuy)
Costume - Duy Truong (@cafededuy), Nam Mai (@nammai), and Shilyn Joy’s Salakot hat (@shilynsews)
Raya Wig - Evermore Wigs (@evermorewigs)
Videographer - Nicalyn (@tripalyn)
Assist - Joel Justin Ortiz Jr. (@joeljustinjr)