Awkwafina
Awkwafina in 2018
Born
Nora Lum

(1988-06-02) June 2, 1988 (age 35)
EducationUniversity at Albany (BA)
Occupations
  • Actress
  • rapper
  • comedian
Years active2005–present
AwardsFull list
Musical career
OriginQueens, New York, U.S.
Genres
Instrument(s)Vocals
Websiteawkwafina.com
Nora Lum
Chinese林家珍

Nora Lum[1] (born June 2, 1988),[2] known professionally as Awkwafina, is an American actress, rapper, and comedian. She rose to prominence in 2012 when her rap song "My Vag" became popular on YouTube. She then released her debut album, Yellow Ranger (2014), and appeared on the MTV comedy series Girl Code (2014–2015). She expanded to films with supporting roles in the comedies Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016), Ocean's 8 (2018), Crazy Rich Asians (2018), and Jumanji: The Next Level (2019). For her starring role as a grieving young woman in The Farewell (2019), she won a Golden Globe Award.

Since 2020, Awkwafina has been a co-creator, writer, and executive producer of the Comedy Central series Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, where she also plays a fictionalized version of herself. In 2021, she portrayed Katy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.[3] She has also performed voice roles in the animated films Storks (2016), The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019), Raya and the Last Dragon (2021), The Bad Guys (2022), The Little Mermaid, Migration (both 2023), Kung Fu Panda 4, and IF (both 2024).

Early life

Awkwafina was born in Stony Brook, New York,[4] to Wally Lum, a Chinese American, and Tia Lum, a Korean American.[5] Her father worked in the information technology field,[4] and comes from a family of restaurateurs—her great-grandfather immigrated to the United States in the 1940s, and opened the Cantonese restaurant Lum's in Flushing, Queens,[6] one of the neighborhood's first Chinese restaurants.[7] Her mother was a painter who immigrated with her family to the United States from South Korea in 1972.[6] She died from pulmonary hypertension in 1992 when Awkwafina was four, and Awkwafina was subsequently raised by her father and paternal grandparents.[5] She became especially close to her paternal grandmother, Powah Lum.[5][7][8]

Awkwafina grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, where she played the trumpet and was trained in classical music and jazz.[9][10] At age 15, she adopted the stage name Awkwafina, "definitely a person I repressed" and an alter ego to her "quiet and more passive" personality during her college years.[11][12][13] She has cited Charles Bukowski, Anaïs Nin, Joan Didion, Tom Waits, and Chet Baker as early influences.[14] From 2006 to 2008, she learned Mandarin at Beijing Language and Culture University to communicate with her paternal grandmother.[2][15] She majored in journalism and women's studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York and graduated in 2011.[10]

Career

Awkwafina began rapping at 13.[13] She got her start producing music with GarageBand but eventually learned Logic Pro and Ableton.[16] In 2012, her song "My Vag" became popular on YouTube.[9] She wrote the song in college[16] as a response to Mickey Avalon's "My Dick (Tribute to Nate)".[17] She was fired from her job at a publishing house when her employer recognized her in the video.[16][17] Her solo hip-hop album Yellow Ranger was released on February 11, 2014.[18] Its 11 tracks include a number of her previous singles released on YouTube, including the title track "Yellow Ranger", "Queef" and "NYC Bitche$". In 2014, Awkwafina appeared in six episodes of the third and fourth seasons of Girl Code.[19] In 2015 she co-hosted its spin-off, Girl Code Live, on MTV.[20]

In 2016, she collaborated with comedian Margaret Cho on "Green Tea", a song that pokes fun at Asian stereotypes.[21] She was part of the lineup at Tenacious D's Festival Supreme on October 25, 2014.[22] She was also a disc jockey (DJ) at bars in New York.[23][24][25] She is profiled in the 2016 documentary Bad Rap, an official selection at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It puts the spotlight on her and Asian-American rappers such as Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy and Lyricks.[26][27] She released a 7-track EP, In Fina We Trust, on June 8, 2018;[28] it won the 2019 A2IM Libera Award for Best Hip-Hop/Rap Album.[29]

Awkwafina with Ken Jeong in 2018

Awkwafina hosted the short-form talk show web series Tawk for the digital production company Astronauts Wanted from 2015 to 2017. The first season premiered on YouTube and was picked up for exclusive streaming on Verizon's Go90 platform.[30] It was an Official Honoree at the 2016 Webby Awards and was nominated for a 2016 Streamy Award in the News and Culture category.[31] In 2016 she played a supporting role as Christine, a member of Kappa Nu in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,[32][33] and voiced Quail in the animated comedy film Storks. In 2018 she starred in the indie comedy Dude, playing Rebecca, one of four best friends. She was among the principal cast in Ocean's 8, the all-female spinoff to the Ocean's Trilogy. She then co-starred in the film Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu, playing Goh Peik Lin, a Singaporean college friend of lead character Rachel Chu (Constance Wu).[34] She had a recurring role in the Hulu original series Future Man in 2017.[35] She hosted the 2018 iHeartRadio MMVAs.[36]

Awkwafina hosted the October 6, 2018, episode of Saturday Night Live, becoming the second East Asian-American woman to host the show (after Lucy Liu, whose episode Awkwafina cites as her inspiration to one day be famous enough to host SNL). She did an impression of Sandra Oh, who later in the season became the first East Asian-Canadian woman to host an SNL episode and the third East Asian woman to host overall.[37]

In 2019, Awkwafina starred in the film The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang. She played Billi, a writer who visits her ill grandmother in China.[38] The film received critical acclaim. Awkwafina received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical,[39][40] becoming the first person of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe Award in any lead actress film category, after being only the sixth woman of Asian descent to be nominated in the lead actress in a musical or comedy category.[41] In the same year, she starred as avatar Ming Fleetfoot in the film Jumanji: The Next Level,[42] which was a commercial success.[43][44] In July 2019, Awkwafina was cast as Katy in Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings alongside actors Simu Liu and Tony Leung Chiu-wai. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film was released in theaters on September 3, 2021, earning critical praise and grossing $430.5 million.[45][46][47] She won the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Shang-Chi. In August 2019, Disney announced that Awkwafina would voice Sisu the dragon in the animated film Raya and the Last Dragon, which was released on March 5, 2021.[48] Awkwafina improvised much of her dialogue for the film, drawing comparisons to Robin Williams' performance as the Genie in Aladdin.[49]

As of 2020, Awkwafina stars in the comedy series Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens; she is also a writer and executive producer of that show. As part of the promotional campaign, she recorded new announcements for the 7 train of the New York City Subway,[50] making jokes, such as "This is Hunters Point Avenue, a friendly reminder that seats are for people, not your bag" and "This is 46th Street, which is a lucky number, I just learned that on the internet. Also learned that pigeons and doves are the same things, WHAT?!", at every stop. These recordings were used until the series premiered on January 22.[50] In a season one episode, Simu Liu made a guest appearance before the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. In October 2023, National Geographic announced that Awkwafina narrated the documentary series A Real Bug's Life.[51][52]

Public image

Awkwafina on the red carpet of the 77th Golden Globe Awards in 2020

Awkwafina has developed a profile as a fashion model, appearing regularly on magazine covers including Vogue, Allure, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and feminist magazine Bust.[53] In 2018, she was featured in Gap's "Logo Remix" campaign, which featured up-and-coming artists who "are remixing creative culture on their own terms" alongside SZA, Sabrina Claudio and Naomi Watanabe.[54] Awkwafina was honored as Kore Asian Media's Female Breakout of the Year in 2017.[55]

Awkwafina has expressed support for Time's Up, a movement started by Hollywood celebrities against sexual harassment.[56] She has also advocated for more female directors and against the stereotyping of Asians in media.[56]

Awkwafina has faced criticism for cultural appropriation of AAVE and mannerisms stereotypic of the African-American community.[57][58] In 2018, she said, "I welcome that conversation because as an Asian-American identity, we're still trying to figure out what that is."[59] On February 5, 2022, Awkwafina tweeted, "My immigrant background allowed me to carve an American identity [...] as a non-black POC, I stand by the fact that I will always listen and work tirelessly to understand the history and context of AAVE".[60][61] Certain activists criticized this response as being several years late and unapologetic.[62][63] Conversely, Vulture writer Lauren Michele Jackson felt that Awkwafina does not "conjure blackness any more than Ed Sheeran's bars", adding that, "In conversations around Awkwafina's blaccent, the actress's regional and musical background has been used to both defend and attack her".[58]

Other ventures

Before launching her entertainment career, she worked as an intern at the Gotham Gazette in New York City; as an intern at the Times Union newspaper in Albany, New York; and as a publicity assistant for publishing house Rodale Books,[12] which fired her after they discovered her music videos. She later worked at a vegan bodega.[16] In 2015, she released a New York City guidebook, Awkwafina's NYC.[64] On May 16, 2019, she headlined The Infatuation's annual food festival, EEEEEATSCON where she spoke about her upbringing in Queens, and her family's Cantonese restaurant.[65]

Filmography

Key
Denotes films that have not yet been released

Film

Year Title Role Notes
2016 Bad Rap Herself Documentary
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising Christine
Storks Quail Voice role
2018 Dude Rebecca
Ocean's 8 Constance
Crazy Rich Asians Goh Peik Lin
2019 The Farewell Billi Wang
Paradise Hills Yu
The Angry Birds Movie 2 Courtney Voice role
Between Two Ferns: The Movie Herself
Jumanji: The Next Level Ming Fleetfoot
2020 The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run Otto Voice role
2021 Breaking News in Yuba County Mina
Raya and the Last Dragon Sisu[66] Voice role
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Katy [46][67]
Swan Song Kate
2022 The Bad Guys Ms. Tarantula Voice role
The Bad Guys in Maraschino Ruby Voice role; short film
2023 Renfield Rebecca Quincy
The Little Mermaid Scuttle Voice role
Once Upon a Studio Sisu Voice role; short film
Quiz Lady Anne
Migration Chump Voice role
2024 Migration: Fly Hard Voice role; short film
Kung Fu Panda 4 Zhen Voice role
IF Bubble IF Voice role
Jackpot Katie Post-production
2025 The Bad Guys 2 Ms. Tarantula[68] Voice role; in production
Wildwood Mrs. McKeel

Television

Year Title Role Notes
2014–2015 Girl Code Herself 6 episodes
2015 Girl Code Live Herself (co-host) 10 episodes[69]
Regular Show Apple (voice) Episode: "Hello China"
2015–2017 Tawk Herself (host) 36 episodes
2016 Mary + Jane Gina Episode: "Noachella"
2017 Future Man Woman at Video Game Store 3 episodes
2018 Animals. Annie (voice) Episode: "Roachella"
Saturday Night Live Herself (host) Episode: "Awkwafina/Travis Scott"
2019 Weird City Charlotta Episode: "Below"
The Simpsons Carmen (voice)
Dr. Chang (voice)
Episode: "Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy"
Episode: "D'oh Canada"
Tuca & Bertie Bertie's Left Boob (voice) Episode: "The Promotion"
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance skekLach the Collector (voice) 7 episodes
2020–present Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens Nora Lin 27 episodes
Also co-creator, writer and executive producer
2020 One World: Together at Home Herself Television special
2022 The Boys Presents: Diabolical Sky / Areola / Turd (voice) Episode: "BFFS"
Also writer
2024 A Real Bug's Life Narrator Documentary series
TBA Unnamed Pet Resort Project Saachi (voice) [70] Main role

Web

Year Title Role Notes
2021 Discord: The Movie Herself With Danny DeVito

Discography

Studio albums
Title Details
Yellow Ranger
  • Released: February 11, 2014
  • Label: self-released
  • Format: Digital download
In Fina We Trust
  • Released: June 8, 2018
  • Label: self-released
  • Format: Digital download
Studio singles
Title Year Album
"My Vag" 2012 Non-album single
"NYC Bitche$" 2013 Yellow Ranger
"Mayor Bloomberg (Giant Margaritas)"
"Queef"
"Daydreamin'" 2014 Non-album single
"Come Stop Me"
(featuring Dumbfoundead)
"Yellow Alert"
(featuring Dumbfoundead)
2016
"Green Tea"
(featuring Margaret Cho)
"Pockiez" 2018 In Fina We Trust

Awards, nominations and recognitions

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Awkwafina

Awkwafina was honored as Kore Asian Media's Female Breakout of the Year in 2017.[55] For her performance in the comedy-drama film The Farewell, she received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, the Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Virtuoso Award, among numerous other nominations. Alongside the film's ensemble, she was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Awkwafina also received a nomination for the BAFTA Rising Star Award.

In 2023, Awkwafina was honored with two wax figures at Madame Tussauds New York.[71]"

See also

References

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