"You don't just want to be, 'Oh, well she's Asian, let's put her in,’ “ the Crazy Rich Asians star tells PEOPLE

By Dana Rose Falcone
May 14, 2019 03:41 PM

Awkwafina had viewers cracking up in Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8, but the Asian-American actress knows that representation in Hollywood is no laughing matter.

“I think there’s something also to be said about the industry casting … only because you’re a minority and nothing else,” the 29-year-old told PEOPLE Now. “You don’t want that to happen, you still want your own merit and your own whatever you’ve done to be a part of it. You don’t just want to be, ‘Oh, well she’s Asian, let’s put her in.’ “

Her summer 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians marked the first Hollywood movie in 25 years that starred a nearly all-Asian cast (The Joy Luck Club was the last film to do so in 1993). The change of pace paid off, as Crazy Rich Asians — also starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Gemma Chan — smashed box office records to become the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade.

Awkwafina at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Jan. 26.
George Pimentel/Getty

A sequel based on China Rich Girlfriend, the second book in Kevin Kwan’s series, is in the works from the first film’s director Jon M. Chu and screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Li.

“I think that Hollywood needs to find that balance and I think it is,” Awkwafina, born Nora Lum, continued. “I think the difference is between diversity and representation — Constance talks about this a lot — diversity is the illusion of representation whereas representation actually speaks to people. I think they’re figuring that out in a way that I feel very optimistic about.”

RELATED VIDEO: Gemma Chan Teases ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Sequel After Having The Earliest Call Time in ‘Captain Marvel’

Awkwafina’s upcoming comedy The Farewell tells the story of another Asian family, a Chinese clan that learns their grandmother has less than three months to live after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Rather than let her know about the sad news, the family schedules a wedding in China so everyone can say goodbye together before grandma passes.

The Farewell opens on July 12.

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