During an interview at The Atlantic Festival on Friday, September 23, actor Constance Wu opened up about her experiences of sexual harassment and intimidation by a senior production member while working on the show Fresh Off The Boat. Wu was at the Washington D.C. festival to discuss her upcoming memoir, Making A Scene, which comes out on October 4. In the book, she talks at length about her experiences with the individual—whom she only identifies by initial—during FOTB’s first two seasons.
“I eventually realized it was important to talk about because I did have a pretty traumatic experience my first couple years on the show and nobody knew about it,” Wu told Atlantic staff writer Shirley Li at the festival. She added that her decision to speak out about her experiences on the show did not come easy and that she was “pretty resistant” to writing about what happened, which is what the book’s final essay, “You Do What I Say,” is about.
And in a recent interview with The New York Times, Wu discussed that period of her life, all of which are more fully detailed in the book. When the show first began, the producer was particularly controlling over Wu, demanding that he have a say in both her business matters and wardrobe choices. In 2015, at a sporting event, he allegedly put his hand on Wu’s thigh and grazed Wu’s crotch, an incident she brushed off at the time. Eventually, during FOTB’s second season, Wu felt more empowered to stand up against the producer, and the two stopped talking after she refused to attend a film festival with him.
Wu explained at the festival that once the show’s popularity soothed her anxieties about losing her job, she thought she had successfully dealt with the trauma of the producer’s actions, quietly and by herself. “But the thing is, bad feelings don’t just go away because you will them to,” she said. “They’re inevitably going to come out somewhere.”
The family sitcom, which aired on ABC in 2015 and continued for five seasons, launched Wu into stardom in the role of “tiger mom” Jessica Huang, with the show itself making waves for Asian American representation. But it was precisely the fear of jeopardizing the show’s historic reputation that kept Wu from speaking out against the producer for so long. “It was the only show on network television in over 20 years to star Asian Americans and I did not want to sully the reputation of the one show we had representing us,” she told Li.
When the show was renewed for another season in 2019, a series of Wu’s frustrated tweets caused controversy and backlash. After the renewal was announced, the actor shared on Twitter that she was “so upset” and that she was “literally crying” about the news. Even after publicly apologizing, online backlash accused the Crazy Rich Asians actor of being ungrateful, insensitive, and a diva, all of which led Wu to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Though in part, Wu’s disappointment was due to the other projects that she’d have to delay or cancel because of FOTB’s renewal, it makes sense now why Wu would additionally be wary of returning to an environment that was once unsafe for her.
Through tears, she told Li:
“I wanted to have a fresh slate where I didn’t have to start a show with all these memories of abuse. Because every day, [...] a few people knew it was happening, and to go to work every day and see those people, who knew he was sexually harassing me, being buddy-buddy with him, it felt like a betrayal every time.
While deeply personal and colored with the same hesitations that many survivors of sexual assault and harassment grapple with, Wu’s experience speaks to the more insidious dangers of limited media representation for racial minorities. Had there been less pressure riding on FOTB’s acclaim, which Wu described to the NYT as a “great beacon of hope for Asian Americans in the television landscape,” perhaps she would have felt safer coming forward with the truth without feeling like she was risking the show’s reputation.
And it seems like coming forward really has been healing for Wu, and has let her shed some of the anxieties that once held her back. “I’m relieved to have this book out,” she told the NYT. “I feel like it’s more representative of me than the me that is on a press tour for a movie that’s breaking barriers for Asian representation.”