Well-loved Hollywood actor, Mila Kunis, is a favorite for many. However, many do not know of the third culture kid (TCK) background she has.
Birth name Milena Markovna Kunis, known to many as Mila Kunis was born in 1983 in her home country of Ukraine, in the city of Chernivtsi. Her parents are Jewish Ukrainians. Kunis grew up speaking her native language of Russian. After her parents confessed they saw “no future” in communist Ukraine for their children, they packed up with only $250 dollars in their pocket, and moved to California, United States. Kunis was a mere 7 years old when this move transpired.
The transition to America was anything but smooth for Kunis. Growing up only speaking Russian and being thrown into a completely English speaking environment of American schools, Kunis was in a culture shock. She felt she did not understand anything about American culture, people, and especially not language. Kunis states in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “I blocked out second grade completely. I have no recollection of it. I always talk to my mom and my grandma about it. It was because I cried every day.” This suppression of memories was due to the swift change a young Kunis witnessed by moving to the U.S. with hardly any preparation.
Kunis is now an ATCK. She was a TCK as Kunis was culturally mobile between Ukraine and America during formative years of her life. She cultivated a third culture out of her move to America. This third culture is from the joining the culture of her Jewish and Ukrainian heritage to her American experiences and interactions with the culture.
Introduction to Hollywood
The Kunis family initially started out in American struggling to make ends meet. However, the parents encouraged their daughter to pursue acting classes in a bet to assimilate more into American culture and gain friends. However, this quest turned into something greater than anyone could have imagined. At only 14, Kunis got her first big role as Jackie Burkhart. This role was in what would eventually prove to be a highly successful sitcom, That ’70s Show. This first major role propelled Kunis’ career.
Throughout her time in Hollywood, Kunis has been able to incorporate her Ukrainian heritage in film. In the movie “Max Payne” she utilizes her native Russian tongue and does it impeccably.
Although Kunis has utilized her native language in her career and speaks about it candidly in interviews, that does not mean all are familiar with her background. Kunis appears, as well as generally portrays, an all-American role. She is a white individual, which is the majority race in America, so many presume her to be a native. Kunis has a hidden diversity of being bilingual and 100% Ukrainian and Jewish in her heritage. She now adapted the voice of someone from America. With hardly any accent to be noted, this only adds to her hidden diversity.
Interviewing a close friend, roommate and longtime Kunis fan was interesting eliciting her thoughts on this hidden diversity in Kunis. Levis explains to me “I never knew she had any sort of Russian or Ukrainian background. I kind of just assumed she was your all-American actor! She never seemed to have an accent or cultural differences in her acting, but that is really interesting. I hope she is able to use her native language in her future work– that would be really cool.” Her TCKness is not one onlookers generally attribute when looking at her, but this remains a prevalent aspect of Kunis’ identity.
Questions to Consider
Did you know Mila Kunis was from Ukraine or could speak Russian?
Do you think the adversity she Kunis had to face coming from Ukraine and being thrown into a culture shock environment at a young age has been a helping or hurting factor in her career as an actor?
Do you think Kunis should apply her Russian language in more films going forward? Why?