12 Days of Feminists: Constance Wu

This year, we're recognizing the women who showed up, raised their voices and fought for change. Here, Madelyn Chung celebrates Golden Globe-nominated actor and activist Constance Wu

Constance Wu smiling and looking powerful with illustrations of hands raised in power fists around her on a maroon background

(Photo: Getty Images; photo illustration: Joel Louzado)

There’s a powerful scene in Crazy Rich Asians where, during a game of mahjong, the lead character, Rachel Chu, tells her boyfriend Nick’s disapproving mother, Eleanor Young, that she turned down a proposal from the love of her life to avoid causing a rift between him and his “crazy rich” family.

“I’m not leaving because I’m scared, or because I think I’m not enough—because maybe for the first time in my life, I know I am,” she declares to Eleanor, before revealing that she had a winning hand all along and chose not to play it.

The scene hit home for Constance Wu, the Taiwanese-American actor cast as Rachel in the summer’s blockbuster hit, who told The Hollywood Reporter she cried during almost every take of the climactic scene.

“The line where I say, ‘I know I’m enough’ is hard not just for Rachel,” she explained. “When you’re a woman, to assert your worth, in a declarative way without apologizing for it is scary, because you’ve been chastised before.”

Powerful, candid statements like these are what Wu has become known for since stepping into the lead role in Fresh off the Boat, the first network TV show in 20 years to feature an Asian-American family. She’s proven that she isn’t just a cool, talented and hilarious actress. She’s also a badass feminist who fearlessly speaks out on issues that plague her industry, like the tendency to whitewash Asian roles, the lack of Asian-American representation, the discrimination against women of colour and the rampant sexual misconduct.

A short list: In 2016, she spoke out about Scarlett Johansson’s casting in Ghost in the Shell (a sci-fi flick based on Japanese manga), particularly the way the film was edited to give Johansson “more Asian features.” That same year, she called for an end to gender pay gap. Then, she publicly slammed Casey Affleck’s 2017 Oscar nomination because he had previously been sued by two women who said he sexually harassed them on the set of his 2010 mockumentary, I’m Still Here, allegations that resurfaced in the lead-up to his Oscar win for Manchester By the Sea. (The civil lawsuits were settled out of court.) And this year, she used Crazy Rich Asians as a platform to fight for better representation on the big screen and championed the #TimesUp movement, highlighting the stereotyping and fetishization of Asian women during her speech at the Women’s March in L.A. earlier this year.

Of course, her candor doesn’t come without backlash. Wu was targeted by social media trolls known as “Asian incels,” Asian men who attack Asian women for dating white men, and also revealed that she lost film roles for calling out Affleck. Though she admits that this negativity does take a toll—“My public face, you probably think I’m doing great… but I struggle, too,” she told Indiewireshe still refuses to be silenced.

“When I speak out about something that means a lot to me, whether it’s sexual harassment or whitewashing, that matters to me more than losing jobs,” she told Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.

As a Canadian-born Chinese woman who barely saw myself represented on screen growing up, I feel an instant connection to Wu. She’s the role model I’ve been waiting for—not only because she looks like me, but also because she’s an important voice for my community.

Her outspoken nature is a far cry from stereotype of the docile, meek and soft-spoken nature Asian woman that’s so common in Hollywood, a trope that affected me greatly growing up. In times where I believed I was being discriminated against for being a woman of colour, I didn’t speak up—partially because I was afraid of the repercussions, and partially because I had internalized the stereotype of Asian women being quiet and weak and thought I was supposed to keep to myself.

This year, however, after seeing Wu fearlessly use her voice, I was inspired to use mine. Despite hateful backlash or negative career implications, Wu knows the importance of using her platform for good, for “amplifying the voices of people who don’t feel heard.” She’s made me proud to be an Asian-Canadian woman.

Wu’s message at 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. resonates through her work in 2018. “You’re allowed to have your voice, no matter what anybody says,” she said. “Especially as a woman and women of colour.”

More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:

Day 1: Chrystia Freeland