Our first person of the month is Constance Wu! Best known for her role as Jessica Huang in the ABC comedy Fresh Off the Boat, Wu is a second generation Taiwanese-American born in Richmond, Virginia. Ever since she was young, she had a great interest in acting, starring in various theater and community theater productions since she was eight or nine. She would later feature in plays at HATTheater and Theater IV and a production of “The Tempest” in a 2005 Virginia Shakespeare Festival shortly after college. After reading numerous books about acting—reading books by famous actors such as Richard Boleslawski and Sanford Meisner—she knew that she wanted to pursue a career in acting in the future. She attended SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Theater Arts and graduated with a BFA in acting, trying out for various roles in indie films and theater while in college. Afterwards, she studied psycholinguistics and had considered attending a graduate degree program in speech pathology at Columbia University before deciding to continue her dream career in acting while in New York. Her film debut was as the supporting role of Jenn in the film Stephanie Daley, and she appeared in various films—such as the Year of the Fish and The Architect—and TV shows—like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Torchwood, and Covert Affairs—before landing her spot on Fresh Off the Boat.
Despite her success, Wu definitely feels that the media offers little to no support for aspiring Asian actors and actresses and she has often spoken out against discrimination in the industry, especially in the scope of Asian erasure. Most recently, she has protested the potential use of yellowface in Ghost in the Shell, denounced whitewashing in Doctor Strange, and criticized Matt Damon’s role in The Great Wall. For Wu, Asian representation is important because it empowers other Asians. By filling in lead roles with white actors and actresses, it only reinforces the idea that people of color cannot be heroes or the protagonists of their own stories. She also believes that it limits the ways that Asians see themselves as well as narrows the opportunities they feel they can achieve. In an interview with Vulture, Wu explains that, while discourse about whitewashing and yellowface has increased, the barrier of systematic erasure and microaggressions wrapped up in good intentions is standing in the way of real change. She discusses that the fear of not making enough money because there are no “bankable” Asian actors and actresses to lead films is turning many companies away from diverse casting. Wu has spoken out against these monetary excuses as well, stating that perpetuating the idea that only white men can save the world is not worth the potential profit.
Even so, Wu believes that there is a shift in media coming: with so many types of outlets—from huge numbers of new television shows coming out every year to the sheer amount of media being produced on various Internet platforms like YouTube—there is a need to catch people’s attention in an oversaturated medium. Thus, many companies are turning towards new experiences which has encouraged TV shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Black-ish—both of which portray a different story of the American experience. Wu welcomes this change, since this kind of media not only showcases the similarities that tie all Americans together, but also highlights and celebrates the differences that make everyone special. She also feels that it’s important to not just portray a “highlight reel” of the Asian-American story. By portraying the challenges of life, TV shows can deconstruct the model minority myth and show socioeconomic success is not the same as personal happiness. She also feels more honest stories are vital because they can remove the stigma around difficulty. Rather, Wu believes, it’s the struggle that ultimately moves people and that, above all, acting and moviemaking should be about telling a story rather than making money.
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