Who is she?
Born in Queens, New York, to a Chinese father and Korean mother, Nora Lum, 31, began rapping when she was 13 and adopted the name Awkwafina for her on-stage persona a few years later. “In retrospect, it was a horrible name,” she told the New York Times.
Why is she famous?
The rapper made her big break in films when she nabbed big roles in two Hollywood blockbusters Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8, which both came out in 2018. She was also cast in the Marvel superhero film Shang-Chi, which stars Canadian Chinese actor Simu Liu and Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai.
Why is she in the news?
This week, Awkwafina won best actress in a musical or comedy film for her performance in the indie film The Farewell at the Golden Globes, joining a small group of performers of Asian descent who have won Golden Globe awards. Sandra Oh is the only performer of Asian descent to have won twice.
The Farewell was originally scheduled for its China release in late November but was abruptly pulled by regulators without any explanation. Paradoxically, the film’s producers may view the delay as benign, as its new release date this week will generate more local interest thanks to the award.
The film tells the story of a young woman named Billi (Awkwafina) whose US-based family travels back to China after hearing news that the family’s matriarch – Billi’s grandmother (played by mainland actress Zhao Shuzhen) – has received a terminal diagnosis. The extended family decide to keep this news from the grandmother to ensure her final days are as happy as possible – leading to cross-cultural tensions between the mainland Chinese relatives and Billi’s more individualistic American outlook (a tension that generates a good deal of comedy).
The Lulu Wang-directed film is mostly set in the city of Changchun in Jilin and 80% of the dialogue is in Mandarin. That may not sound promising for American audiences, but The Farewell was one of last year’s highest-grossing indie pictures in the US.
China’s netizens were excited by Awkwafina’s Golden Globe win. “Her confidence reminds me of Hua Mulan [the legendary female warrior, soon to be the subject of another Disney movie this year],” one gushed.
Nevertheless, not everyone was impressed. “She is head-to-toe American. It doesn’t seem like she has anything to do with us,” one less approving commentator sniffed.
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