Awkwafina Says The Oscars Snubbing 'The Farewell' Wasn't All Bad News

"The Farewell" star acknowledged “there’s always more work to be done," but took an optimistic view on Asian representation in Hollywood.

This year’s Oscar nominations landed with a thud, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Monday recognizing zero women for Best Director and only one actor of color among its 20 acting nominees, despite increased public pressure to diversify the work it honors and a profusion of successful films by women and people of color to choose from in 2019.

Among those was Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell,” which the academy completely overlooked, failing to recognize the film, Wang’s directing and writing, or the acclaimed performance of its star Awkwafina.

Asked about the snubs Tuesday, Awkwafina acknowledged “there’s always more work to be done” — but took an optimistic view, arguing the film’s success was a win in and of itself and a sign of how far Asian representation in Hollywood has come in recent years.

“‘The Farewell’ came out last January at [the Sundance Film Festival], and we really didn’t know where it would take us. To see all the attention that it’s gotten, that feels like a win,” she said Tuesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, while promoting her upcoming Comedy Central sitcom “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.”

“We didn’t know that ‘The Farewell’ would literally have a home. We didn’t know if anybody would buyThe Farewell,’ that it would be on the screens,” she continued. “I think there’s always more work to be done, of course. I’ve had a pretty exciting ride, and I think with this show, and with the movies we’ve seen this year, representation existed in those movies. That’s what I know. In terms of anything else, I can’t be more grateful to do what I love to do, and to be recognized a little bit for that is enough. It’s great.”

Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for her role in "The Farewell."
Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for her role in "The Farewell."

Many had hoped she would go on to receive a best actress Oscar nomination for her performance. She would have become the first Asian American woman to be nominated in the category, and only the second performer of Asian descent to be nominated for the best actress Oscar in the award’s 92-year history, after Anglo-Indian actor Merle Oberon in 1935.

The actor, comedian and rapper took on her first dramatic role in “The Farewell,” written and directed by Wang and inspired by Wang’s own family, who hid her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis from her, a common practice in Chinese culture. Awkwafina plays Billi, based on Wang, who returns to China to visit her grandmother and extended family as she navigates the complicated space between her Chinese roots and American upbringing, a story that powerfully resonated with many Asian Americans.

“I wanted to show a family that was very culturally specific, but also very American at the same time,” Wang told HuffPost last year. “A family that both feels very Chinese, but also still feels very, very American.”

She discussed how it was difficult to get the film made because producers seemed to want to neatly categorize it as either an American or Chinese story, asking her to change essential elements.

She also turned down a potential streaming deal in order for more audiences to be able to see the film in theaters.

On Monday, Wang tweeted that she had “much to say about a lot of things” — but instead of dwelling on the day’s news, posted a joyful video celebrating her anniversary with her partner, director Barry Jenkins.

On Tuesday, Awkwafina acknowledged that “we can’t ignore the fact that there are some incredible movies that were women-helmed, including mine.”

But she added that “personally, I feel very grateful for where I am and where we’ve come.”