Did Awkwafina Make Her Way In Hollywood Using Black Stereotypes?
Given that there were so few Black people nominated for this year’s Golden Globes, I had no intention of watching. In fact, until I saw red carpet images, I didn’t know that they took place yesterday. But these days, you don’t have to watch an award show to be a part of the conversation.
And this morning, comedic actress and rapper Awkwafina, sparked some discussion. Awkwafina, who is American with Chinese and South Korean ancestry, became the first Asian actress to win a Golden Globe in any lead actress category for her role in the film The Farewell.
While the thought of an Asian American being honored in this way was something quite a few people celebrated, there were plenty of folks who took issue with the fact that it seemed Awkwafina spent a majority of her career lampooning Black women with her accent, in her attire and general demeanor in many of the roles which she attached herself.
In fact, her name alone, a play on the water brand Aquafina, many interpret as a way people criticize Black women’s names for being “made up,” “nonsensical” “misspelled” “extravagant” and “ghetto.” Awkwafina, whose real name is Nora Lum, chose the name for herself when she was 16. In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, she shared why she chose it.
“I wanted something–at that point I never thought that people would actually call me “Awkwafina, I just thought it would make me and my other friend, who at that time was my branding manager at age 16, you know, we would giggle.”
She told Kimmell that she also considered calling herself Dassani with two S’s.
In addition to her name, for years people have wondered about Awkwafina’s blaccent. In addition to using it during her rap career, it was placed on full display in her role in the hit film Crazy, Rich Asians.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Awkwafina’s character, who her grandmother said is essentially her playing herself, she recites lines like this: “But you can’t swerve,” Peik Lin interjects, throwing up her left index finger. “You gon’ roll up to that weddin’ and be like ‘bawk bawk, bitch.’”
When asked about the blaccent, Awkwafina shared that she grew up in a multicultural environment in the New York City borough of Queens. Still, she acknowledged that it’s a conversation she’s willing to have. And in her latest role, she hasn’t relied on these stereotypes. But in the series based on her upbringing, there are no Black people.
And Black folk took notice. After her win, they shared their grievances about the fact that Awkwafina used Black culture, Black lexicon and style to secure a spot in Hollywood, only to shed it when it no longer served her.
See what these people had to say on the following pages.