Bad Rap is a documentary that’s available now on VOD about four East Asian American rappers that, according to the director, Salima Koroma, is “a film about what it means to be an outcast, what it means to love something so much, but be told you can't be part of it. It's a story about fighting desperately for something you want despite your internal doubts and fears." The trailer is below.
One of the four MCs profiled in the doc is Awkwafina. You are probably now familiar with her because she’s one of the Ocean's Eight. And she was recently cast as Peik Lin in the movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. In support of Bad Rap, Awkwafina spoke with Donnie Kwak for The Ringer and they talked about how she’s on a group chat with her Ocean's castmates and how paranoid she is that people will hack her phone to get to Sandra Bullock and Rihanna; what it’s been like working with “woke” Constance Wu on Crazy Rich Asians; the experience of being part of a cast where no one feels like they’re “the Asian in the cast”; and also… her name.
Awkwafina is also Nora Lum. When asked if she would ever consider going by Nora Lum professionally, the way Ludacris is credited as “Chris Bridges”, for example, when he’s in a movie or Lady Gaga will be known as “Stefani Germanotta” in A Star Is Born, this was her response:
“Well, I think that the ability for a musician to use their real name is a privilege, so you have to be in a certain class of musician to even have that advantage. It’s something that I thought about, but it is a privilege — a privilege that I don’t have. I feel like if I use Nora Lum, people would literally think I’m a different person. Which has its ups and downs, but I think a lot of aspects of Awkwafina bleed into the roles I’ve been taking in movies. So I don’t think that it’s inaccurate, you know?”
As you can imagine, Awkwafina has been laughed at for her name. But she’s not wrong about the way we would perceive her as “Nora Lum” as opposed to “Awkwafina”. I’m getting into Duana territory here but that’s the point of her book, The Name Therapist: our names can define us and…or… they can distinguish us. Awkwafina will be credited as “Awkwafina” in both Ocean's Eight and Crazy Rich Asians. On the CRA set, “Awkwafina” is what’s printed on her chair. This is how she felt the first time she saw it:
“That always means a lot because you look at that name and you remember when you chose that name for yourself and what that meant to you at that age when you chose it, and then seeing it actually materialize and used in reality is very profound. So it’s really cool to see my name on call sheets and see my name come up when I’m on TV. I chose that name for myself when I was 15 years old, so it’s nice to see it actually being recognized, you know?”
Both my parents chose their English names, as did many Chinese of their generation because they were given Chinese names and not English ones. My dad’s Chinese name is LUI (family name or last name) Fuk-Lit (given name). Fuk-Lit means “good fortune”. But say it out loud, “Fuk-Lit”. Now imagine introducing yourself to someone in English. Hey, what’s up, I’m Fuk-Lit, nice to meet you. Or imagine someone asking Fuk-Lit where the party’s at. It’s impossible.
Nora Lum is not exactly LUI Fuk-Lit and Awkwafina isn’t Bernard, but there is common ground in the choice to go by Bernard instead of Fuk-Lit and Awkwafina instead of Nora – it’s about identity and, also, to go back to what Salima Koroma said, about figuring out how to be a part of something or part of somewhere.
Click here for more of Awkwafina’s interview with The Ringer.
Yours in gossip,