The morning after Awkwafina and the film she starred in, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, led the list of most infuriating Oscars snubs on nominations morning, the actress addressed not just being overlooked but the angered reactions from fans of the film.
The cast and crew of The Farewell had “a couple of text message exchanges about everything, about how appreciative we all are about how long this run has been,” she told journalists at a Television Critics Association press conference for her new Comedy Central series Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, which premieres next week.
“The Farewell came out last January in Sundance,” she said. “We didn’t know where it would take us. To see all the attention that it’s gotten, that feels like a win.”
Awkwafina won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for playing Billi, a young woman from an immigrant family in New York grappling with her family’s decision to, as is tradition, not tell her grandmother that she is dying. She travels to China to say goodbye to her “Nai Nai,” but also must help her family keep the secret.
In addition to her Globe win, Awkwafina was nominated for several guild and industry acting awards and was considered a frontrunner for what would have been a historic Best Actress nomination at the Oscars. She would have been the first woman of Asian descent nominated in the category since 1935.
“The bottom line is there were some amazing performances. I think all of them were warranted,” she continued before addressing the other source of outrage relating to the Oscar nominations. The Farewell was overlooked entirely by the Academy, joining the litany of deserving films helmed by female directors—in this case, Lulu Wang—that were dismissed despite critical and industry support over many of the projects that were nominated.
“We can’t ignore the fact that there were some incredible movies that women helmed, including mine, The Farewell,” she said. “So me personally, I feel very grateful for where I am and where we’ve come.”
Asked to elaborate on her emotional reaction to the fact that, once again, performers of color and filmmakers behind movies telling cultural specific stories tuned in Monday morning to see only one woman of color nominated—Cynthia Erivo, for playing a slave—and their movies largely ignored, Awkwafina continued to say that she’s purely grateful, pointing out that when The Farewell premiered at Sundance, the cast and crew didn’t know if anyone would even buy it and distribute it.
“There’s always more work to be done” when it comes to representation in pop culture and validation by organizations like the Academy, she said. “With this show [Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens] and with the movies we’ve seen this year, representation existed in those movies. That’s what I know. In terms of anything else, I can’t be more grateful than to do what I love to do. To be recognized even a little bit for that is great.”
It’s noteworthy that Awkwafina’s Comedy Central TV show is premiering just as her film career is taking off. One journalist likened that to the situation of Awkwafina’s Crazy Rich Asians co-star Constance Wu, who notoriously tweeted out an expletive to express her disappointment that her TV series, Fresh Off the Boat, was renewed, locking her into that production just as she was being offered more exciting opportunities in film.
“When it comes to that stuff, I think that at the end of the day we’re all human and we all negotiate with this career in our own ways,” Awkwafina said. “I haven’t been around as long as Constance Wu. She, in my time, was a very important part of the Asian-American community, our generation. I look up to her in that way.”
“My career is very different,” she continued. “I’m very new to TV. I’m still new to movies. It’s more of an acid trip.”
She was also asked whether Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, a Broad City-esque look at a Chinese-American millennial living with her father and grandmother in New York City, signals a turning point in representation and storytelling for the Asian-American community.
“I think the landscape is about as noticeable as from when I was growing up,” she said. “I remember the first Asian-American sitcom that premiered was Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl. I remember that being an event.”
“When you look at the progress we made since then, it’s incredible,” she said. “But these shows stick out as very genre-specific Asian-American shows. I think that, slowly and slowly, as these shows become more ingrained as Americans as we are, they’ll start to filter [into the mainstream].”