Nora Lum: This Actress is Changing the Game for Asian American Women

April 5 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Rhythm & Blues

When I was in college, I pitched my editor a story about a rapper from my hometown named Tech N9ne. I pulled up to an indiscriminate building of Tech N9ne’s record label that I’d passed by several times. When I opened the doors to the massive space, I saw merchandise organized Marie Kondo style.

We sat down for the interview on Valentine’s Day, and I asked questions that my more experienced journalist self now cringes at. To my surprise, he mentioned that he enjoys a nice, chilled glass of Riesling, despite his cult-favorite song about a mixed drink called “Caribou Lou.” His gentle and generous demeanor toward a then-novice college kid has stuck with me. All of this is to say, people can surprise you and offer you kindness that stays with you for a lifetime.

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 24.5 Percent

Hip hop’s influence on all kinds of genres has been significant. R&B and hip-hop music was considered the biggest music genre of 2017, accounting for nearly a quarter of all music listened to, at 24.5 percent. One of the most successful artists that year was the crazy talented Kendrick Lamar, who would also be the first rapper to earn a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 album.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Nora Lum (AKA Awkwafina), Rapper & Breakout Star in Crazy Rich Asians

I went to Crazy Rich Asians for the romantic storyline and stayed for Awkwafina’s character, Goh Peik Lin. Her official name is Nora Lum, but she’s known as Awkwafina We’re all obsessed with her, and you should be, too.

Nora became a household name in 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight. Both broke the glass ceiling in some way: the former, as the highest-grossing romantic comedy in the last decade, and the first all-Asian cast in the past 25 years. The latter, as an all-female cast in the Ocean’s franchise.

This isn’t a coincidence. Awkwafina garnered fans since 2012 through her forthcoming YouTube video, in which she raps about vagina. Yep, her lady bits, her vajayjay, her Queen Victoria. It was in response to a rapper who wrote a song about his anatomical parts a handful of years earlier. Awkwafina’s video was funny and bold and everything she is. Posting the video cost her her job as a publicity assistant but, looking back, it proved to be worth it.

As an Asian-american, Nora’s humor and committed approach to her characters has helped movie execs and viewers alike to see how biased our pop culture has been. She has South Korean and Chinese heritage, so, as she says, her brash and funny YouTube videos came across as “provocative” because viewers didn’t see many Asian-americans as gutsy as her on the Internet.

Make no bones about it: Nora didn’t fall into acting or comedy. She always wanted to be a part of the industry, even attending an elite performing arts high school. Nora’s entertaining outlook and impeccable comedic timing has always been who she is, though. Her mom died when she was just four years old, and her grandma raised her.

Music, though, has been Awkwafina’s real lifelong passion. She has now put out two albums. She says by the age of 18, her Macbook housed about 500 songs that she’d produced or rapped on. It was Nora’s way to relax, to unwind, to dream, to create.


Here’s a quote from Nora Lum:

"You have to do what fits for you, and you need to know what you can't do because it doesn't look right and feel right."

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