Constance Wu is the subject of a new profile in the New Yorker, a long read that chronicles the actor’s rise as a prominent, refreshingly frank force in Hollywood—and the rare Asian-American actor to become a big-time celebrity. But by examining Wu’s racial identity, the profile, written by Jiayang Fan, both embodies and critiques the tropes of thinking about the success of a person of color: because Wu is Asian-American portraying Asian and Asian-American characters in Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh Off the Boat and most recently Hustlers, she is also made out to be, not just a successful actor, an exemplar for all Asians and Asian-Americans. “I don’t want to be a fucking role model, I’m an artist,” she says in one moment.
And then this glorious quote spills out of her:
I wondered if the sense of being pigeonholed had increased with her fame—if she felt pigeonholed at this very moment, as I peppered her with questions about her Asian-Americanness, when it wasn’t the defining facet of her identity. Wu sank back into her seat and pulled one leg up. “Look, when Tom Cruise is in an interview, people aren’t, like, ‘What’s it like to be a white actor?’ My answers coincide with Asian-American activism, but that’s because those are the questions I’m being asked. It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in it and that I’m not a proponent of it. But is it my reason for being alive? No.”
Yes! More prominent, pigeon-holed actors would be wise to say something similar. Though Wu’s identity is part of who she is, it’s not the whole of her career. It’s only because representation of Asian-American actors on Hollywood’s A-list is so scarce, that her rise to fame is locked in the paradigm of her race, rather than her broader skill and range. While I hope the quote isn’t misconstrued as Wu playing down her Asian-American-ness, or something, quite frankly, it’s true.
She also said this about being accused of being a “diva” online and elsewhere, which is a fun framing for the haters:
“I’m glad people are talking shit about me, because it makes me think about other people’s feelings and the effects of things. It’s like negotiating authenticity with obligation, and I don’t have an answer either way, because I think you have to actually clarify what your obligations are first and what your authenticity is first.”
Next mean comment is going to get hit with “Thank you for allowing me to negotiate authenticity with obligation.” You have been warned.