THE EVOLUTION OF ONE WOMAN
Her World Malaysia|March - April 2020
WE’VE SEEN SO MANY YOUTUBE PERSONALITIES MAKE IT TO THE BIG SCREEN, BUT A BEDROOM RAPPER BECOMING THE FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN TO SNAG A BEST ACTRESS AWARD AT THE 77TH GOLDEN GLOBES? THAT’S NEW. AWKWAFINA (OR AWKWARD-FINA AS SEEN IN HER TWITTER BIO) IS THE BREAKOUT STAR WHO LEFT AN ICONIC FOOTPRINT IN THE EVOLUTION OF ASIAN REPRESENTATION IN FILM.
LORRAINE CHAI
The 31-year-old shot to fame after her scene-stealing appearance in the blockbusters Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Her roles in Ocean’s 8 as Constance, a fast-talking pickpocket, and Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians, an outspoken new-money Singaporean, have built her reputation as one of the most humorous actresses in Hollywood.

She speaks straight to our hearts in 2019’s The Farewell – not giving the audience a chance to pigeonhole her as a comic relief in movies. In the comedy-drama film, a story based on the director Lulu Wang’s life experiences, Awkwafina takes on the leading role as Billi, an aspiring Chinese American writer in her 30s. Billi has a close-knit relationship with her grandmother, although the latter lives miles away in China. Later in the story, her grandmother is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and predicted to have only a few months to live. Billi struggles in a constant debate with her family and also herself whether to disclose the results or hide the medical condition from her grandmother – a Chinese cultural belief in which they believe what kills is not cancer but the fear of dying.

Her emotionally poignant interaction with her Chinese grandmother throughout the film not only earned her the Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) award at the 2020 Golden Globes, but brought us to tears – at least for me! The film, which lays out the typical Chinese family belief of hiding from its matriarch the news of her impending death, also hit home for the Asian American actress as she was raised by her Chinese American father and grandmother after the passing of her South Korean immigrant mother. No wonder the star is such a natural at playing Billi.

EMBRACING DUALITY

Born Nora Lum, she is ‘just your average Asian trumpet player-turned-rapper-turned-actress – as she put it in her Saturday Night Live (SNL) opening monologue. Professionally known as Awkwafina, she explains that the stage name was inspired by her daily awkwardness. “I’m awkward, but it’s fine,” she told the South China Morning Post. The somewhat flamboyant moniker is an alter ego who oozes confidence and can’t care less – something the neurotic and passive Nora lacks. She explained to The Guardian that the duality between both personas is that Awkwafina is someone who never grew up. She’s one who never had to bear the brunt of all the insecurities and overthinking that come with adulthood. More than just a mouthful nickname, Awkwafina was a dream she was chasing and is still chasing after; even if that means she will come across endless setbacks. That aside, she jokingly shared on National Public Radio (NPR) that when people started calling her by the name, she couldn’t help but feel that it was a mistake, a memorable one nonetheless.

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