Awkwafina talks feminism, Hollywood, and her complex feelings about whitewashing


The past year has been one helluva ride for rapper and actor Awkwafina, the force behind such tracks as “My Vag,” “Queef,” and “NYC Bitche$.” Between putting out a dope track with Margaret Cho for Asian American Pacific Island Heritage Month, appearing in Neighbors 2, being a talking head on MTV’s Girl Code, being featured in Bad Rap, and getting cast in Ocean’s Eight along with Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, and Rihanna, Awkwafina is rapidly becoming a mainstream phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean she’s left the internet behind.

This week saw the premiere of the fourth season of Tawk, her wild AF show on Go90 where she chats with various celebrities and personalities like Jean Grae, Pete Davidson, Charlamagne Tha God, Hasan Minhaj, and Fusion friend Akilah Hughes. There are skits, hijinks, and, of course, plenty of awkward moments.

“It’s completely raw. It’s not contrived,” Awkwafina told me over the phone earlier this week. We chatted about Tawk, how she navigates Hollywood as an Asian actress, and why it’s so good to shout Trump’s name.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What can we look forward to for this season of Tawk?

We’ve done the previous ones all in New York and what you’ll see soon is that we take it to LA, which is cool. There’s a whole subplot [about me] having an affair with my DJ Chiz.

That sounds juicy.

Geriatric sex is so hot. [Ed. note:  DJ Chiz is an old man who hangs out next to Awkwafina and holds a boombox. He looks to be around 70.]

What has been the coolest part about doing Tawk?

[Astronauts Wanted, which produces Tawk] literally just said to me: Do whatever you want to do, and so that’s exactly what was done. And I think this is how Hollywood should work. This is how Hollywood can negotiate that tension with people whose voices aren’t put out there. It’s something that is completely raw, it’s completely organic, it’s not contrived.

You are a very self-made celebrity. What has that been like?

I made the song “My Vag” when I was 19. I was kind of coaxed into putting it on YouTube against my will. I was really scared that it would bite me in the ass years later. I knew nothing about performing or anything like that. All I knew was producing beats and recording songs in my bedroom, so it was a pretty scary process. It was really Tawk that was the transition for me to get out of music and into a more comedic phase.

Back when “My Vag” came out, it was very much hailed as this feminist anthem.

I am not one of those girls who’s like, “Um I’m not a feminist,” but I didn’t think, “My music is going to be so good and so powerful that all people are going to be so moved by it!” I actually came to discover that women were very empowered by that song. I think that I was scared that people were going to be like, “Well you’re not a real feminist because you say this and you say that.”

As you’ve transitioned from music to acting, how has your experience been, dealing with Hollywood as a woman of color?

I think that now more than ever, people of color are behind the scenes. So when they cast people it’s more of a realistic depiction. I don’t get asked to play like a Long Duk Dong. I’m [almost] never asked to do an accent. I walked out of one audition where they changed their mind and wanted an accent.

In Ocean’s Eight, my character’s identity has nothing to do with her being Asian, which is the direction I see Hollywood going because they’re being called out for it. I think it’s important for people of color to not really feed that system by taking roles that are making a buffoonery out of them, just so they can get a job.

What is it like being an Asian actress and seeing films like Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell, where the characters are whitewashed?

I don’t think it’s that hard to find a real Asian for a role that’s meant to be an Asian role. At the same time, I think that—and oh my God I’m going to get in trouble for this—if Japan remade Titanic, I feel like they would cast Japanese people as Jack and Rose. If we’re doing a major remake, I think we’re going to try to make those roles American. But for Ghost in the Shell, that’s a tricky one for me. People get really mad that that’s not an Asian woman up there. Let’s just hope Mulan is Asian.

Wednesday [was] International Women’s Day and the Women’s Strike. Have you been involved with any of those activities?

I wholeheartedly support them.

The Women’s March was something I found to be so incredibly grassroots, where like all of Brooklyn went to DC, but at the same time, I felt it was a way for people to inauthentically go just to say that they were there. I feel like there is a level of slacktivism, you know? And it’s celebrities too who don’t actually show up but will do everything else from the comfort of their own home. I don’t want to pretend to be an activist that I’m not.

For AAPI Month last May, you dropped “Green Tea” with Margaret Cho. Any plans for this year?

I hope so. I’m working on an album right now. I think whatever I do drop in May will be more lit than “Green Tea.” And that’s a pretty lit standard there.

That was such a Donald Trump comment. [In an eerily accurate Donald Trump voice] “You know what? I don’t know what it is, but it’s going to be great. It’s going to be great, we’re going to blow it out of the water, it’ll be great, we’ll be winning. And it’ll be great.”

That was a very uncanny Donald Trump!

Actually if you shout “Trump” at inanimate objects, like if you stub your toe and you just yell “TRUUMP!” it’s very cathartic. It feels great.

Tawk airs Monday through Friday on Go90.

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