Constance Wu is fully aware of the lack of representation in the entertainment industry. But she wasn’t always. Before she hit it big, she thought the reason she wasn’t getting roles was because of her looks and talent, not because of her heritage. And she has her hometown to thank for that.
“I grew up in Richmond, Va. My high school mascot is a rebel holding the confederate flag. I grew up in a very white area,” the Crazy Rich Asians star explained during her appearance at BUILD on Tuesday. “And I’m sure in terms of institutional bias, of course that affected [me]. But Richmond’s also a really friendly, polite place so I never got any blatant bullying.”
Since she was never treated differently because of her race (at least not to her face), she never thought being Asian would cost her. So, when she didn’t succeed at something, she blamed it on something else. “Which, I think, made me internalize any feelings I had into self-blame. Which is so fun, to blame yourself.” Especially when you’re an actor, getting rejected all the time. “That’s what I did in Hollywood, too,” she explained. “If I didn’t get a part, I never thought it was because I was Asian. I was like, ‘well, I’m not pretty enough or I’m not a good enough actor.’ That’s what I always would think.”
But after she got cast in Fresh Off the Boat, which premiered on ABC in 2015, it didn’t take the 36-year-old long to notice the underrepresentation of Asians in Hollywood.
And it’s because of her experiences working with Asian casts that has taught Wu so much about diversity on screen and off. “I’ve learned how it makes people feel when not just their faces are reflected on screen but their stories, how that affects confidence, character,” she said.
In both screenings for Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat, she noticed that audiences were crying — “and it’s a comedy, you know,” she pointed out of her ABC sitcom. “So people were crying just because they had never felt seen.”
She realizes that there are still people who don’t feel seen, “obviously because we can’t represent everyone.” But she has a plan. “What it taught me is that if you do one and you do it really well, they will make more.” She pointed to Dr. Ken as an example, which starred her Crazy Rich Asians costar Ken Jeong and was green-lit after the success of Fresh Off the Boat.
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