'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Awkwafina on Asian Actors: "We're Out There, We Exist"

Awkwafina - 2018 iHeartRADIO MuchMusic Video Awards - August 26, 2018-Getty-H 2018
GP Images/Getty Image

The rapper and actress said a strong second weekend for the Warner Bros. rom-com explodes the stereotype that "minority movies can't bring it in."

As diversity becomes an industry buzzword, Crazy Rich Asians star Awkwafina says Jon M. Chu's groundbreaking romantic comedy proves Asian and Asian-American actors should no longer have to fight for visibility in Hollywood.

"This is an entire ensemble cast of talented Asian and American and British and Australian individuals that are doing things and changing the industry in their own way, and we're out there and we exist," the rapper-turned-actress told the Hollywood Reporter on Sunday night backstage after hosting the iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards in Toronto.

Awkwafina said she shed tears after first screening Crazy Rich Asians, even though she co-stars, for the studio movie with an all-Westernized Asian cast allows Asian audiences to see themselves reflected on the big screen. "I watched Crazy Rich Asians and, not even at the sad parts, I cried. And I've watched Asian-American kids come out of screenings and they're crying," she added.

Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu and newcomer Henry Golding star in Crazy Rich Asians, along with Gemma Chan and Michelle Yeoh. Awkwafina insisted that 25 years after The Joy Luck Club — Hollywood's last studio film with a contemporary Asian storyline and all-Asian cast — Asian-American actors should no longer be passed over for lead movie roles in Hollywood.

"This movie needed to show and pound that message in," said the rising Asian-American star who plays Peik Lin, Rachel's (Wu) college friend, in the film. Awkwafina applauded the Warner Bros. release for picking up another $25 million at the box office over its second weekend, nearly the same haul as the movie earned in its debut outing.

"People didn't believe we'd make as much as we did in the first weekend. In Hollywood, they might have thought minority movies can't bring it in," she said. The $30 million production opened better than any other comedy this year, and any rom-com since 2015’s Trainwreck.

Awkwafina adds that Crazy Rich Asians joins Black Panther, Girl's Trip (another studio comedy) and Get Out in showing that movies aimed at minority audiences can bridge to mainstream. "We've seen a couple films this year that completely blew that out of the water. Crazy Rich Asians is no different. It's something different. It's something fresh. It moves people," she explained.

The New York-based rapper has been quickly building up an acting career by also nabbing roles in Neighbors 2 and the Ocean's Eleven spinoff, Ocean's 8, with Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock leading the all-female reboot.

Awkwafina also starred in the indie comedy Dude and is developing a scripted series for Comedy Central.