SPOTLIGHT

MATRIX 2021 SPOTLIGHT: AWKWAFINA

Award Winning Actress, Writer and Producer

AWKWAFINAHolding her Golden Globe in 2020, Awkwafina made history and—of course—a joke: “If anything, if I fall upon hard times, I can sell this,” the actress, born Nora Lum, quipped to the crowd. “So that’s good.”

Awkwafina became a breakout star after Crazy Rich Asians, and her resume now includes blockbusters like Jumanji: The Next Level, Oceans 8, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Raya and the Last Dragon. She also stars in her own semi-biographical show on Comedy Central, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens.

Her talent has merited a Satellite Award for Best Actress and nominations for the Rising Star BAFTA in 2020 and a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actress. And, in January of 2020, she became the first Asian American to win a Golden Globe in any leading actress category.

The actress, viral rapper, writer, executive producer and, now, Matrix Award winner has turned barriers into motivators, paving the way for more nuanced and widespread representation.

Awkwafina spoke with New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) about the gaps still present in the industry but the hope to be found behind the scenes and on the screen.

Since your career started, what improvements in diversity have you seen in Hollywood, and what more still needs to be done?

Since my career started, I’ve seen the roles change. I think I slowly saw them morph from one-dimensional, often the only Asian in a group of girls and not fully realized. A big reason for this that I have found is the changes going on behind the camera. And how stories are now being written authentically and then self-directed as Lulu Wang did in The Farewell. The changes I’ve seen are hopeful, but I think Hollywood needs to continue pushing for more diversity on and off-screen. More females and female POC in traditionally male-dominated roles onset (including directing), so more authentic stories can continue to be told.

What inspired you to start producing?

Producing is knowing what goes on on all fronts of a show. I realized very quickly that actors often stay in one world, where we don’t always understand or know all of the things that are taking place to keep things afloat. Producing has since taught me that every movie or show is an effort that includes every single woman and man in every single department. It is about balancing many fires without being a fire yourself, and I’m still learning.

What role models did you look up to as a kid?

I looked up to a lot of different people, but Margaret Cho really changed my perspective of what might be possible for a woman who looked and spoke like me.

How do you manage your mental health while always being in the spotlight?

This is something I am still trying to figure out. It’s an industry that doesn’t necessarily ease your mental health, and it’s so easy to lose yourself in the process. I want to maintain a strong sense of self and a strong knowledge of who I am. Because without that, you let everyone else define you.

What do you believe has been the most challenging part of your career?

I think the most challenging part of my career, in the beginning, was a sense of impostor syndrome and not quite understanding how I got here. I saw the amazing opportunities, the amazing people I got to work with and often wondered if this is real, if it’ll last and if I’ll always continue growing and wanting.

What advice would you give young Asian women that want to follow in your footsteps?

I would say that for young Asian women, the world is not set up for you to feel pride in your two identities. But you have to find that somehow. When you don’t see a lot of you on tv or other fields, know that that absence shouldn’t act as a deterrent to pursue your dreams but rather motivate you to fill those absences. For me, I started later than most of my co-workers, so I would also say that it’s never too late, and you’re never too old!

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mandy Carr is the Tech Editor at Screen Rant.

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