The 2019 Variety Power of Women list was released yesterday. This year the magazine honours Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Aniston, Dana Walden, and two women born in 1989, Brie Larson and Nora Lum, aka Awkwafina.
Brie won her Oscar three years ago. Three years ago, nobody knew Awkwafina. Now she’s covering Variety, being honoured for her philanthropic efforts outside of acting and singing and writing, the star of one of the most successful films of the year (The Farewell), after starring in the most successful rom-com in decades (Crazy Rich Asians), and will star in Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
“Everything comes back to that. It was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken in my life to this day.”
But it’s one thing to start on a risk, it’s another to capitalise on the momentum, to turn a moment into a movement, as they say. Awkwafina could have just been the girl who had a viral hit because she rapped about her vagina. She’s become the girl who built a sustainable career that includes film and television opportunities, like her upcoming Comedy Central series (Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, premiering in January), off of a viral hit – and that’s much, much harder. It involves continuing to take risks; taking risks when you have more to lose is a lot more intimidating than when you have nothing to lose.
The goal, though, moving forward, is to make it so that a young Asian woman trying to break through in entertainment isn’t that much of a gamble – because there’s more space. And this, always, is the added responsibility for women in Awkwafina’s position: you’re looking out for yourself, and you’re looking out for the people who are coming through the door behind you. She staffed her comedy series with mostly women, looking outside the traditional Hollywood system for new talent. And she’s working with Building Beats, a “New York City nonprofit that provides equipment, workshops and mentoring for minority and low-income youth who want to go into music production but don’t have the resources”.
This is what she says Margaret Cho did for her – from afar, when she was growing up and Margaret was the F.O.D. (First, Only, Different), and a few years ago, well before Awkwafina became a celebrity, after seeing the “My Vag” video and reaching out.
Somewhere out there, Awkwafina is the Margaret Cho for another young woman with big dreams, many young women with big dreams. And now she’s on the cover of Variety, making the most of her power. Click here to read the feature and if you haven’t already, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell will be available for home viewing on October 29. Awkwafina still has an outside shot at a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in this wonderful film, one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2019.
Yours in gossip,