In an interview with Variety, Crazy Rich Asians star Awkwafina sat down to discuss the importance of representation in the film industry as both a woman and an Asian-American actress.
“Representation starts both in front of and behind the camera,” said the 29-year-old actress and rapper, going on to claim that more racially or ethnically diverse films are difficult to come by, because the screenwriters that are most often hired by Hollywood production companies are typically white, and they might find it difficult to tell someone else’s unique story.
“I think for any minority group,” she continued, “you need to have writers who can reflect those stories and tell them honestly. It’s important to give people a chance. Take a chance on opening up roles, even leads, for actors of color.”
Going on to talk about her experience on working with an all Asian cast on her latest film Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina said it “was amazing,” noting that the entire cast formed a special familial bond that completely new to her, despite being involved in other films. “From the moment the film was announced,” she added, “I was just excited to see the movie come to fruition, whether or not I could be in it. I knew it would be impactful for my community.”
While Awkwafina claims she didn’t really have any Asian or Asian-American role models in the industry to look up to when she was a kid, she revealed that seeing Margaret Cho perform on Comedy Central for the first time was akin to discovering “a unicorn.”
“She was an Asian woman who had a perfect American accent, something I wasn’t used to seeing,” she explained. “And she was so funny and unashamed and bold. I remember thinking, ‘That is what I want to be.'”
The Crazy Rich Asians star also admitted that actresses like Lucy Liu and Michelle Yeoh helped her to realize that the possibility of breaking into the entertainment industry was not as impossible as she had previously thought. “When you don’t have representation growing up, you don’t know how to materialize your dreams. You don’t even know it’s possible,” she said.
When asked about her thoughts on the future of representation in Hollywood as an Asian-American woman, Awkwafina acknowledged that the film industry is changing for better in terms of diversity and representation, noting that, “It really takes discussions about whitewashing to realize America is not one color.”
“It’s a giant melting pot,” she said, “and there are so many ways people can relate to movies, to music. I think Hollywood is realizing they can reflect that.”