Film Forward

Constance Wu Points Out What Her Two Biggest Roles Mean For Asian American Representation

"That's truly historic."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

A new Twitter post from actress Constance Wu highlights just how underrepresented Asian Americans have been in Hollywood over the years, and how two of her biggest roles are working to change that. Wu is the star of ABC's comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, as well as the upcoming movie adaptation of the novel Crazy Rich Asians, out August 15.

As Wu points out in her post, it's been more than two decades since film and television put Asian Americans front and center in such a major way. Fresh Off the Boat, Wu writes, is the "first network TV show in over 20 years to center an Asian American story." The last, Deadline reports, was Margaret Cho's sitcom All-American Girl in 1994.

"Why had it taken 20 years? Why hadn't anyone been talking about that lack before?" Wu wonders. She also shares that Fresh Off the Boat, which starts its fifth season later this year, is the first "network show starring Asian Americans to reach syndication," adding, "That's truly historic."

Wu goes on to note that Crazy Rich Asians is "the first Hollywood Studio film in over 25 years to center an Asian American's story," after The Joy Luck Club in 1993. Earlier, she had clarified on Twitter that it was important to distinguish between all-Asian casts (such as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and films with Asian Americans in lead roles.

The actress quoted Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu in saying the film "is more than a movie, it's a movement." While it's exciting to see Asian American representation in such major Hollywood vehicles, these facts also put into perspective how much progress is still left to be made. 

In fact, there's major progress to be made across the board. A new report from the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that Hollywood has made "no progress" in onscreen diversity in the past decade — for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, or people with disabilities. In 2017, for example, The Guardian reports that 70.7 percent of speaking roles went to White actors.

Putting Crazy Rich Asians on a big screen after such a lack of representation was important to its creators. According to the The Hollywood Reporter, director Chu and author Kevin Kwan turned down a "gigantic payday" from Netflix in order to release the film in theaters. "To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that's what we asked for," Chu said.

In her Twitter post, Wu quotes director Ava DuVernay, with whom she worked on Jay-Z's "Family Feud" music video. "I work in an industry that really has no regard for my voice and the voice of people like me and so, what do I do?" DuVernay said. "Keep knocking on that door or build your own house."

"My dear Asian American friends, we are building our own damn houses," Wu declares, adding, "I hope Asian American kids watch [Crazy Rich Asians] and realize that they can be the heroes of their own stories."

Cover image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

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