Constance Wu, star of the ABC Comedy “Fresh Off the Boat,” spoke about her experiences as an Asian American woman in the entertainment industry in Lyons Dining Hall last night in an event hosted by the Asian Caucus Cabinet, the AHANA Leadership Council, and the International Club of Boston College.
The event is part of the Asian Caucus Cabinet’s annual media spotlight and the ALC’s Representation Matters series.
“Every year, the Asian Caucus sponsors an Asian American who is recognized in their own industry,” said Asian Caucus co-president Clara Lee, LSOE ‘17, as she introduced the event, “Two years ago, we began to spotlight and raise awareness about the Asian American experience, especially in a historically low represented industry, such as media.”
Wu’s portrayal of no-nonsense, pragmatic Asian-American mother Jessica Huang has earned two nominations from the Critics’ Choice Television Award for ‘Best Actress in a Comedy’ in 2015 and the TCA for ‘Individual Achievement in Comedy’ in 2015 and 2016.
Wu’s career continues to grow, as it was recently announced that she was cast as the lead in the upcoming film “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is based off Kevin Kwan’s New York Times best-selling book.
The event began with a discussion moderated by LSOE Professor Oh Myo Kim, who has expertise in international adoption, and was followed by a Q&A session.
Kim opened the discussion by asking about Wu’s childhood and early interest in acting.
Wu described her childhood growing up in Richmond, Va. with Chinese-Taiwanese parents and three sisters. At an early age, she discovered a love for acting in her local community theater and pursued this interest in college.
“Growing up in a mostly white town, I was attracted to community theater,” Wu said, “You were always accepted in the theater, and it was a welcoming, creative space.”
After college, Wu worked in theater in New York before moving to Los Angeles, where she landed the leading role in “Fresh Off the Boat” in 2014.
Kim then directed the conversation to the importance of Asian-American representation in the media, describing how much it meant for her as a teenager to see Margaret Cho, an Asian American who starred in the ABC sitcom “All-American Girl.”
“All-American Girl” was the only network television show that featured Asian Americans in the leading roles and celebrated their culture until “Fresh Off the Boat” came out ten years later.
According to Wu, it can be hard for new stories to be told because investors want to commit to storylines that have proven to be successful in the past because they do not want to risk their money. Wu believes that these investors should listen more to the artists who have spent their lives studying art and telling stories.
“One thing that I do see shifting in Hollywood is not only that we are trying to tell more Asian-American stories, but that we are allowing Asian Americans to be the one to tell them,” said Wu, “I think that is great because it gives us ownership and value of our stories.”
Kim’s also asked about what Wu thinks of the media attention she has received for speaking out about racial and gender issues on social media, including recent Twitter posts about Casey Affleck’s Oscar nomination.
“The problem with media amplification is that it becomes a very clickbait, reactive thing when the issue is more complex than that and deserves more attention than we are giving it,” Wu said.
Wu also addressed an exchange between Margaret Cho and Tilda Swinton over the importance of Asians being cast as Asian characters in the media.
“I’m always talking about systemic racism, sexism, and misogyny. When the media makes it ‘oh, you’re slamming Casey!’ or ‘oh, you’re slamming Tilda,’ it becomes personal,” said Wu, “The person can say they have good intentions, which takes the conversation in the wrong direction without addressing the larger systemic issue.”
Wu also discussed her perspective on how she handles the criticism she receives.
“For me, self-care is about taking care of the things that matter to me,” said Wu, “That means speaking up if something matters, and if someone challenges me, I stand my ground. I’ve done the other thing where I defer and I apologize to get ahead, and it’s effective, but it ends up making me feel worse when I’m alone.”
Wu also offered advice for young Asian Americans who are interested in acting careers.
“Read as much good fiction as you can, listen to people, and observe and care about people. But don’t set up a power dynamic where you are discrediting your value. We put our souls on screen, and that’s a great value,” said Wu.
According to Wu, her love for acting and the value of her work has sustained her when she was rejected.
She said, “When you’re broke as a joke, and you have no cars and cool clothes to fill the sadness, you actually have to learn how to create meaning from nothing. When you realize that you have the tools to create that, you feel unmeasurably rich.”