SHE’S made headlines in the past for criticising movies with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. But the Crazy Rich Asians star says we need to change the conversation.
YOU can’t accuse Crazy Rich Asians star Constance Wu of being timid.
As the female lead of a major network TV comedy for the past four years, the Asian-American actor has in the past used her platform to be vocal about Hollywood’s whitewashing of Asian roles.
She’s made headlines for speaking out about Scarlett Johansson’s casting in Ghost in the Shell, a sci-fi flop based off an iconic Japanese manga, and decried Matt Damon playing the white saviour in Great Wall, a movie about fending off dragons in ancient China, for perpetuating the myth that “only a white man can save the world”.
Passionate about Asian representation in Hollywood, Wu has attracted both praise and criticism for daring to speak out.
She said Ghost in the Shell producers who had experimented with computer techniques to make a caucasian actor look more Asian was engaging in the “practice of blackface employed against Asians”.
Now, she’s the face of Hollywood’s first modern film in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast, a story about an Asian-American immigrant. The platform doesn’t get bigger than that.
She’s well aware of Crazy Rich Asians’ significance not just in the history of movies but in how it affects individuals of the Asian diaspora who can sit in a cinema in Melbourne, Manchester, Toronto or Seattle and see themselves reflected on screen.
But Wu wants to move away from “blame” to “awareness” of the issue of systemic racial bias in pop culture and beyond.
“What I hope is that we stop putting the blame on individuals,” Wu tells news.com.au. “Because then it becomes all about ego and hurt feelings.
“We have to tie the conversation to an awareness that we are all raised in a form of structural or systemic racism. That is through no fault of your own but the only way you can correct it is if you’re aware that it even exists.
“If you’re too busy being attacked, you don’t have time to understand it.”
Wu was born in the US state of Virginia to parents who migrated to the US from Taiwan and in the past has spoken about how she couldn’t even audition for roles that had been written as Asian because producers were looking for a white actor.
Before Crazy Rich Asians, she was best known for her lead role in Fresh Off The Boat, a sitcom about an Asian-American family in the nineties.
When Fresh Off The Boat premiered four years ago, it was the first US TV series to centre on an Asian family since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl was cancelled 20 years previously.
Wu conceded that she knows some people thought she was placing blame when she name-checked Damon and Johansson, but she said she was only using their cases as examples.
When jokingly asked to confirm she has nothing personal against Damon, she’s quick to cry, “No, not at all!”
“I’m not mad at him because you can’t get mad at somebody for making a choice when they didn’t know,” she said. “But you can let people know so the next time when people come up against that choice, they have awareness. Nobody was ever hurt by knowing more.
“I love Scarlett Johansson and I know her and I think she’s terrific. We have to shift the conversation to awareness and away from blame because blame is not effective.”
Wu knows that Asian-Americans and Asian-hyphenates around the world have found empowerment in seeing themselves represented on screen. But she also sees Crazy Rich Asians as being a movie that non-Asian audiences will not only love, but will also relate to.
“I hope they have a good time but you also want them to relate to it. In America especially, there’s this idea of the perpetual foreigner, that’s why they only think of me as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Wu said.
“If you see a story and you relate to one of the characters and I think people will find somebody to identify with because we have so many different archetypes in this movie, I think it will make other people view us in a more human way.
“It’s not just the idea of an Asian person. There are people who have souls, lives, personalities and ideas. And I think that relating will happen not by drilling in somebody’s head but by exposure to these kinds of stories.
“That’s why we hope this storytelling is going to continue.”
Crazy Rich Asians is in cinemas now.
Fresh Off The Boat seasons one to four is available on iTunes.
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