SEATTLE, Washington — Many world-famous celebrities are part of mainstream Hollywood, so it is easy to associate them as Western-born and raised. However, there are many celebrities from developing countries. Countries described as “developing” are measured by their economic growth and gross national income (GNI). Many of the great actors, musicians and athletes currently in America come from all different backgrounds and all corners of the world. Here are six celebrities from developing countries.
6 Celebrities from Developing Countries
- Nicki Minaj – Rapper Nicki Minaj was born Onika Tanya Maraj in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago. Her mother moved her and her siblings to Queens, New York when Minaj was 5. Minaj retains ties to her roots. She raised awareness and funds for flooding in Trinidad and Tobago in 2018. Trinidad and Tobago are tiny islands off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. Thanks to a large supply of oil and gas, these tiny islands are one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean. In fact, they have a higher gross national income than much of Latin America. Unfortunately, the economic dependence on oil and gas has led to foreign debt, unemployment and labor unrest over the years.
- Salma Hayek – Actress Salma Hayek was born and raised in Coatzacoalcos, Mexico. Though she attended school in Louisiana and Texas during her teens, she returned to Mexico for university and to pursue a career in telenovelas. It was not until she was 25 years old that she moved to the United States permanently to become a Hollywood actress. Hayek’s breakout role was in Frida (2002) as Frida Kahlo. According to the World Bank, Mexico is number 11 in the world’s largest economies; however, its economic growth has not exceeded more than 3 percent since 1988 due to a lack of financial inclusion.
- Mila Kunis – Actress Mila Kunis was born Milena Markovna Kunis in Chernivtsi, Ukrainian SSR (now present-day Ukraine). Kunis was raised in a Jewish and Russian-speaking household. When she was 7 years old, she and her family left Ukraine due to antisemitic discrimination. Kunis landed her first major acting role at age 14 on That ‘70s Show. She also lends her voice to Family Guy since 1999 and has starred in several movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), Black Swan (2010) and Bad Moms (2016). Ukraine is a developing country in Eastern Europe that has a lot of economic potential with a cheap labor force and a favorable climate. The country has endured ongoing political unrest, generating a lack of trust in public institutions.
- Freddie Mercury – Queen singer Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the small island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. His parents were Indian Parsis devoted to the Zoroastrian religion. He lived in Zanzibar until he was 8 years old when he was sent to attend school in India. He didn’t return to Zanzibar until he was 17. Almost immediately after his return, he and his family fled to England during the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. In England, he changed his name to Freddie Mercury and became the lead singer of the band Queen, which would become a global phenomenon. Interestingly, of all the celebrities from developing countries listed, Tanzania criminalizes homosexuality. Mercury would have been arrested if he lived there today. Tanzania has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, which might be due to the lack of political instability within the state. However, Tanzania’s population growth is equally fast, much of the population lives below the international line of poverty. This makes Tanzania one of the least developed countries in the world.
- Charlize Theron – Award-winning actress Charlize Theron was born on a farm in a small town outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Afrikaans was her first language. She was raised during the apartheid era of South Africa where people were discriminated against and segregated based on the color of their skin. When she was 16, she moved to Milan to pursue modeling. Theron did not move to the United States until she was 18 to pursue acting. South Africa is unique among developing countries because it shares many aspects with developed countries when it comes to infrastructure and overall economic size. However, the apartheid policies in the 20th century have created social unrest and hindered economic development, keeping South Africa classified as a developing country.
- Lupita Nyong’o – Actress Lupita Nyong’o is an anomaly among celebrities from developing countries. Nyong’o hails from two developing countries, Mexico and Kenya. She was born in Mexico City, but she was raised in Kenya until she was 16. She then was sent back to finish school in Mexico. While her parents are Kenyan, Nyong’o identifies as both Mexican and Kenyan. After finishing school in Mexico, Nyong’o moved to the United States to study and pursue acting. She has won an Academy Award for her role in 12 Years a Slave in 2013. Both Mexico and Kenya are developing countries. Kenya has had massive political reforms since 2010 that have driven many positive changes, including economic growth. However, despite having a growing middle class, Kenya still struggles to combat poverty and protect the economy from a weak private sector.
While many actors, athletes and singers partake in the Western entertainment industry, not all have Western roots. There are many more celebrities from developing countries than one may realize. All of these celebrities come from different backgrounds. Some of them, like Lupita Nyong’o, acknowledge their roots in their rise to fame; while others, like Freddie Mercury distance themselves. This list serves as a reminder that talent is not exclusive to Western countries but can be found in all corners of the world.
– Emily Young