Constance Wu has become an Asian-American household name. When heard, her name may bring squeals of excitement—or at least from me—as a result of her monumental role in enhancing Asian representation in media. Aside from media, she has advocated for movements like #KeepFamiliesTogether, and challenged the stereotypes of Asian women.
Just this August, Wu starred in Crazy Rich Asians (CRA), the first major movie in 25 years to feature a cast with a majority of Asian heritage. The last time anything like had been done was when The Joy Luck Club came out in 1993—that’s before I was born! Growing up, I remember the only Asian-Americans I saw on TV were in the martial arts movies my dad and brother watched, Yao Ming on the Houston Rockets, or maybe the occasional Asian Power Ranger here and there. But August 2018 sure brought forth the truth behind the superstition of the lucky eighth month, because we didn’t just get CRA, but we got John Cho in Searching and Lana Condor in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. But, Wu’s role in CRA as Rachel Chu brought the unique cultural sentiments of Asian-Americans and Asian youth worldwide to the big screen. During the movie’s box-office reign, she and the cast landed covers on magazines, including TIME Magazine.
For an AP English project, I was tasked with finding an image that represented me or something I valued. Inspired by Wu’s cover photo, I decided to google, “Asian-American Time Magazine Cover”, what popped up was the 1987 cover with Asian-American children titled “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids”. Donning typical 80’s clothing and gleaming smiles, but accessorized with books, school work, and even a computer, the kids were polar opposites compared to Wu’s cover where she graced an iridescent yellow coat that, although engulfed three-quarters of the page, along with her rich red lipstick gave prominence to her seemingly effortless stare. In 31 years, Asian-Americans managed to go from “Whiz Kids” to being able to “Change Holywood” and Wu was the face of that. As someone who not only works in media and journalism but is also an avid movie watcher, I felt empowered. Not just because there were Asians on the big screen or on magazine covers, but because they represented that we really can do anything we want to do and that despite the scarcity of representation before, little boys and girls dreaming to become famous (like I did once before) or successful had a wide range of role models to look up to in every possible aspect.
Aside from her contributions to the media industry, Wu has not only been a fearless advocate for movements like #KeepFamiliesTogether and Time’s Up but also a participant in the annual Women’s March. Wu, along with other celebrities like Bella Thorne, flew out to stand up against President Trump and his administration and condemn the separation and detention of undocumented families and children in inhumane conditions at detention centers. I remember seeing a photo of Wu, rocking a neon blue sun hat (one like my mother’s), a tank top, and a pair of distressed jean shorts, holding up a sign and protesting alongside other advocates in 100-degree Texan weather. At Women’s March Los Angeles this year, she called out the fetishization of Asian women and encouraged a broader portrayal of Asians in media, something she fulfilled with her role in CRA. Often times, Asian women, like Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for example, are portrayed as docile servants, but Wu wants to put a stop to that. In addition, Asian-American women in the entertainment industry are looked down upon for going blonde, tanning, or undergoing plastic surgery to obtain a more western appearance. Wu, who is always changing her hairstyles and occasionally sports a sleek blonde-do, shuts down criticisms and embraces the idea of personal satisfaction. Like her character, Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat, Wu embodies a strong Asian-American woman who is unafraid to break the boundaries and at 36-years-old, she is just getting started.