Constance Wu’s social-media advocacy on behalf of people of color didn’t just help inspire “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu to pursue the project — it also helped land her the lead. In 2016, Wu spoke out against two prominent studio castings: Matt Damon in “The Great Wall” and Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell.” “I just realized, ‘What am I contributing to the landscape?’” said Chu in a recent phone interview.
“I was reading all this stuff on Twitter, whitewashed out, all this stuff that Constance was saying and Daniel Dae Kim was saying, and I agreed with them,” he said. “I realized that I was actually part of the problem. Like I was not doing anything — being on the inside of Hollywood — to change things.”
Booking ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” — the first network show about an Asian-American family to garner both multiple seasons and syndication — raised Wu’s profile, and her awareness. “That opportunity sort of woke me up to the lack of representation,” she told IndieWire at this week’s “Crazy Rich Asians” junket. “It was a privilege to learn about that, it almost felt like a responsibility. And so in the past four years, people have come up to me, like on the street, and told me their stories and have told me why [the show]’s so meaningful to them. And those stories have really informed my values.”
Since becoming a sitcom star, Wu has criticized Casey Affleck’s Oscar nomination, called for an end to the gender pay gap, and championed the Time’s Up initiative. Her frankness landed her a spot on Time Magazine’s annual list of the “100 Most Influential People” last year.
“My public face, you probably think that I’m doing great, and I’m plodding forward, I’m a warrior,” she said. “But I struggle, too. I have times where I feel really lonely, I have times where I feel like people misunderstand me, like they think that I’m against Matt Damon or Scarlett Johansson, when really, what I’m trying to do is have a conversation about the systemic biases… They exist, and unless we talk about them, then people are going to keep perpetuating and strengthening those institutional biases.”
On the topic of criticizing specific celebrities, Wu said she has “conflicting emotions.” “When you make it personal, and you make it against a specific person with a name, then you’re not talking about structural racism anymore, and then it misses the whole point!” she confirmed, adding, “I don’t think it’s as productive.” She continued that people of color should still “be able to have their fun” and not be forced to “soften their voices for other people’s comfort [and] white fragility.”
“Crazy Rich Asians” is the first contemporary-set, studio film in a generation with an all-Asian cast, after “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993. “It’s definitely a lot of pressure, oh my God!” said Wu.
Speaking of her friendship with co-star Awkwafina — who was part of the ensemble of a second splashy Warner Bros. summer release, “Ocean’s 8” — Wu explained, “Every time I see her, I’m so excited and we laugh and whatever, but then I’ve had nights where I’ve been so stressed, and lonely, and anxious, and scared, and I’ve called her, and we’ve talked it out. And she’s done the same to me, with ‘Ocean’s 8.’”
That film featured three Oscar winners: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway. “In many ways, that’s even harder,” said Wu. “I’m sure a lot of people just pay attention to the huge stars…when she is worth way more than that, because she’s so talented. We’ve definitely helped each other through those kind of things. But we also just like to tell crass jokes.”