By Erin McQuilkin
Inclusivity fans around the world were vindicated at the 2020 Golden Globes when Asian American rapper and actress Awkwafina took home an unexpected Golden Globe for her performance in the Chinese drama, The Farewell.
Awkwafina has been on a dazzling rise to fame since she burst onto the scene in 2012 when a rap video she posted on YouTube went viral. This is the first time an Asian woman has won ‘The Best Actress’ in a motion picture award at the Golden Globes. Hollywood has been trying to promote a more inclusive agenda since 2015 when the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag began after the nominations were announced, so this is a step in the right direction.
The Golden Globes, presented annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), awarded three minority ethnicity winners this year: Awkwafina, Bong Joon Ho from South Korea, and Ramy Youseff who won for his show Ramy. The illustrious Hollywood awards show was hosted by Ricky Gervais who proceeded to tear up Hollywood, as usual, even going so far as to call the HFPA “very, very racist”, for the lack of diversity of the nominees.
Who Is Awkwafina?
Awkwafina is an alias New Yorker Nora Lum fabricated as an outlet for her inner turmoil and brilliant creativity. Nora was born in Flushing, Queens in the late 80s. She experienced tragedy early in life when her mother passed away while she was still a child.
Nora developed an affinity for making people laugh and was known as the comedian among her friends. She created her rap alter ego, Awkwafina, in her twenties and proceeded to release a rap video called My Vag, which immediately got her fired from her publishing job. But the video went viral and turned Awkwafina into an overnight internet sensation, launching her career as a rapper and comedian. Hollywood powers recognised Awkwafina’s magnetism, and she began to land small comedy roles in films like Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Soon she was able to get more prominent roles and massive exposure as a pickpocket in the celebrity-filled Oceans 8 and a scene-stealing wealthy best friend in Crazy Rich Asians.
Finally, she was offered the starring role in Lulu Wang’s, The Farewell, an emotional drama and a massive departure from her usual films. In this drama, Awkwafina shows her acting chops. In preparation, she studied Mandarin to fine-tune her speech and during filming demonstrated her emotional range as a woman travelling to China to say goodbye to her terminally ill grandmother, who was unaware of her fatal condition. Now, this superstar is entering the second season of her own Comedy Central series called, Nora From Queens, which she writes, produces and stars in.
A flurry of joyful reactions rang out from social media as Awkwafina’s win represented a personal victory to minorities around the world and a possible door for future Asians to be recognised by Hollywood. Awkwafina herself stated that her hope was for this to be the beginning of more minority wins for actresses, actors and directors. Her response to the unexpected win was to joke her way through her acceptance speech, including a mention of using the golden statue as a currency if she was ever financially desperate. She also gave an authentic thank you to her co-actors and the director Lulu Wang who took a chance by casting her in the drama.
The Golden Globes have been presenting awards for 77 years, so it has been a long road for Asian actresses to be recognised. This victory shows that the tide of homogeneous nominations and the lack of recognition for minorities in Hollywood is finally coming to an end. The playing field is equalising as the world becomes globalised and our societies diversify.
Whether Awkafina’s cocky, tongue in cheek rap videos are your style or her more dramatic emotional roles, this ascendant actress is one to watch over the coming years. As an emblem of Asian American women in the US, she is proudly representing her people in Hollywood and will continue to shine as a beacon for her community.
She is a clever and talented woman who’s not afraid to get vulnerable and push beyond her comfort zone. And yet for all her bravado and star quality, Awkwafina is still just Nora from Queens. And this little powerhouse from New York City is a stellar role model for minority kids and adults across the world, showing us boundaries can be broken, and old guards do fall.