On January 5th2020, Awkwafina made history at the Golden Globe, taking Best Actress in Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. The winning sets her as the first actress of Asian decedent ever to collect the trophy in that category. In The Farewell, she plays a Chinese-American girl born in New York who experiences various cultural shocks when returning to China to visit her terminally ill grandmother.
However, some Chinese netizens apparently don’t share the same insight. On Bilibili (one of China’s most widely used website), an interview video featuring Awkwafina was covered in real-time vicious judgements on her appearance. Even the self-evident Golden Globe was interpreted as a symbol of being excessively “politically correct”. Once again, we come right back to the discussion of “western aesthetic hegemony”.
Cultural critic Hongbin Hou believes that this allegation reflects an extremely harsh and distorted aesthetic standards for the appearance of young female artists; the evaluation of them generally emphasises more on the appearance than their acting. Hou points out that there is almost no space for “ugly females” in Chinese film productions. Many Chinese viewers are hooked to a hegemonic form of beauty standard. Therefore, the long-term immersion in this false aesthetic notion has led them to devalue actual expressiveness and one’s true personality.
Nonetheless, Awkwafina’s growing-up experience suggests an endearing figure far from those negative comments. At the age of 19, she composed her rap song My Vag, eloquently praising physical autonomy and countering Mickey Avalon’s My Dick. With her outstanding performance in films like Ocean’s 8, Awkwafina made it onto the cover of Timein November 2019 as “one of the 100 most influential people for the future”. She also appeared on the Hollywood Reporter, together with other influential actresses such as Laura Dunn and Scarlett Johnson. “I’ve seen lots of scripts without differentiating races or main characters from the rest, no deliberate description of sex either. The industry is moving towards a good direction. Everyone is beginning to realise that Asians can do anything,” in one interview she said.
All in all, the success of both the film and Awkwafina reflects the growing discourse of Asian groups in the U.S. film market. It also means that mainstream American society has begun to value more resonating stories of ethnic minorities. In The Farewell, the whole family keeps their grandmother from her true medical condition. Such a “Chinese-style white lie” may be incompatible with American values, but it reminds people that in the face of cultural shocks, perhaps standing in other’s shoes would yield more mutual understanding. That being said, Awkwafina and the film is undoubtedly a breakthrough in America’s film history, and also a celebration of Asian culture.