For Constance Wu, representation was a trap

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photo: Evan Agostini (AP)

In her memoirs make a sceneout today, actress Constance Wu details her experiences of workplace harassment and sexism during her time degrees off the boat– Things she hinted at along the way an apparition last month at the Atlantic Festival. At the event, Wu shared the story behind what prompted her to write the 2019 Tweetstorm that turned the public against her, which eventually led to one suicide attempt. Now in make a scene Wu delves even deeper into the subject, revealing how the print of the on-screen Asian-American portrayal was manipulated into an instrument of control by those who held power over it.

In the “You Do As I Say” chapter, Wu discusses her many interactions with an executive producer, whom she only identifies as M—, while filming the show’s first season, which ranged from uncomfortable to downright hurtful. Since FOTB was her first major television job after years of supporting roles in theater and television. Wu was unfamiliar with many Hollywood norms, including who would handle her business affairs, what to wear, and what advertising work she was contracted to do, a weakness M— exploited.

He subjected her to constant sexual harassment: he harassed her for “sexy” selfies late at night, urged her to attend social events with him, and even touched her inappropriately at a sporting event. If she didn’t behave the way he wanted, M— would either insult her; Subject them to long moments of “punitive silence”; or making casual remarks that made her feel bad (“No, you know what? It’s good that you have big arms. It means you’re strong. Strong women are great. Good for you”).

But perhaps M’s greatest weapon was pressure from the Asian-American representation. Since M— was also Asian American, Wu looked up to him for his success in an industry that remains predominantly white at every level. For Wu, M—’s guidance often came across as caring, a resource for an aspiring actress like her. “When I lost myself, he brought me back to earth,” she wrote. He “kept me from saying and doing reactive things that would harm my career. He made time for me.” But over time, that morphed into relentless control, laced with both racism and sexism.

During a certain conversation, M— said to Wu, “You know what’s the best thing about producing this show? That I can fuck any aspiring Asian actress I want.” At the same time, he made Wu grateful that she was the one cast in her role and reminded her that due to the lack of shows, how easy it was to replace her FOTB, M— left Wu with no choice but to blindly obey him for fear of the consequences: surrogate or worse. For M—, Asian representation was a burden to be held over the actors’ heads, not a source of pride or inspiration.

The strain of perverse representation haunted Wu throughout her relationship with the executive producer. On another occasion, M— tried to force Wu to attend a film festival with him, which Wu wanted to skip due to exhaustion. But M— was relentless:

He lectured me that if I didn’t go, it was for my own good that he was only trying to help me, that I was insulting the AAPI community. That everyone else would leave and if I didn’t it would make me look bad. That I was difficult and it would hurt my career. That he was protecting my reputation and could easily ruin it.

Wu sensed the multiple standards she was subjected to: “Secretly, I wondered if, as a white actress, I would have been labeled ‘difficult’ because I didn’t want to attend film festivals in my spare time? It’s not like I had a film at the festival.”

In the last job interviews and in the book itself, Wu emphasized them fear of endangering not only FOTB‘s reputation, but also M—’s. He was an Asian-American producer who apparently made it to the top through hard work, and Wu was concerned about the knock-on effect of criticizing another Asian-American in the industry.

In a particularly heartbreaking reflection near the end of the chapter, Wu writes:

Was it really ungrateful behavior? Or normal? Or was it just ungrateful in the context of the rare existence of an Asian woman on the pitch? And even if it was the latter, didn’t the context matter? If I was so lucky to be on the field, maybe I had to be perfect and lovely…otherwise they would never let anyone else in.

The harassment she experienced on FOTB is a painful but necessary story for Wu to tell, and much of the rest of the book is playful. But sharing those darker moments feels like part of the process in which she has freed herself from the shame that once stuck her: “I didn’t care how I sounded; I just finally had to make one Sound. For Constance Wu, representation was a trap

Adam Bradshaw

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