‘It’s Time We Take Our Space’: Awkwafina & Simu Liu On Demanding More Than Representation Crumbs

As a Chinese woman growing up in Australia, role models who looked like me on the telly and on the big screen were hard to come by.
Asian characters slotted into outdated stereotypes: reduced to speaking broken English, only there to appease, entertain, or serve the heroic white protagonist.
To make matters worse, we had Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, and Ariana Grande cast in roles meant for Asian actors.
And when roles are generously given out to Asian actors, no matter how big or small, we're expected to be incessantly grateful for the skerrick of representation cast our way. Beggars can't be choosers, as they say.
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Now, we have soppy Netflix franchises (To All The Boys I've Loved Before) and our own lavish Kardashian-eque portrayal of opulence (Crazy Rich Asians, Bling Ring). We have sitcoms about family (Kim's Convenience, Fresh Off The Boat) and award-winning gut-wrenching films (Minari, The Farewell).
Even closer to home, Benjamin Law's memoir-turned-TV-series The Family Law gave us a peek into Chinese life on the Sunshine Coast. Web series Celebration Nation, a diversity-championed comedy series on the trials of retail life, had Asian Australians front and centre.
Now, the Marvel universe is welcoming Asian inclusivity with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hitting Australian screens. Boasting a predominantly Asian cast, spearheaded by familiar names like Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Ronny Chieng, Shang-Chi is said to be a game-changer.
But... should we be clapping? Should we be celebrating this monumental, if not belated, effort?
Taking to Subtle Asian Traits (SAT), a Facebook group for Asian communities worldwide, Simu Liu penned a heartfelt message about the making of Shang-Chi.
"On a rare serious note, this project that I have wept and bled and sweat for over a year in Sydney Australia is finally out in theatres. Shang-Chi represents so much to this group: as you guys probably know, SAT was started by a bunch of uni kids in Melbourne and Sydney, many of whom were involved in the making of this movie as stunties or special extras," he wrote.
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"It is a cultural moment for us as well, being the first movie in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with virtually an entirely Asian cast. I’ve talked about the importance of representation no less than 50,000 times over the course of my career; it’s a vaguely woke and frustratingly open-ended question that is tossed at me time and time again, like you would toss a treat at a dog. Do the representation dance! Say the thing about what it means to have kids watching this movie! I’m not gonna bore you with that."
American actress and rapper Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell, Ocean's 8, Raya and the Last Dragon) appeared on The Project earlier this week. When asked whether she had ever expected to tick off these Asian representation boxes, she pointed to her hope for future generations.
"I feel so blessed [to have] the opportunities and I just hope [they're] going to give way to more... I feel there will be Asian representations for the younger generations now."
She picks out small, cultural nods in the film, like taking off your shoes before you come into the house, noting that she "feel[s] seen in this weird way, even as an actress that's in it".
She laughs when she's asked whether she feels like a trailblazer. "No, I don't feel like a trailblazer every day unless, you know, I'm blazing a trail to the kitchen to make a sandwich for myself," she chuckles. "Which is what I do all the time."
While there are many groundbreaking firsts happening in the film industry, there is still this self-consciousness that clouds Asian representation. A meekness, a profuse gratitude that oozes when we speak of these wins. Or this aggrandisement of celebration that's not there for white counterparts. An awe that's almost cloaked in disbelief.
"I’ll just say that it’s time that we rise up and take our space in this world," continues Simu Liu. "It’s time that we stop acting like we’re constantly guests in someone else’s home. This is home, right now. So take off your shoes, grab a seat, and be comfortable in who you are."

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