Awkwafina Addresses Cultural Appropriation Controversy And Gets Honest About Why She's Staying Off Social Media

In the past few years Awkwafina has found a lot of success in Hollywood. There's her breakout role in Crazy Rich Asians, her critically-acclaimed performance in The Farewell and her turn to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. But with success comes a lot of attention, and the star has been at the center of online uproar over the use of a blaccent (Black accent) in her major roles. After months of silence, the actress is addressing the cultural appropriation controversy.

Awkwafina took to her Twitter Saturday morning to share a lengthy message after not posting on the social media platform since late 2019. In her words: 

There is a sociopolitical context to everything, especially the historical context of the African American community in this country. It is a group that is disproportionately affected by institutionalized policies and law enforcement policies - all the while having historically and routinely seen their culture stolen, exploited and appropriated by the *dominant* culture for monetary gain without acknowledgement nor respect for where those roots come from, the pioneers of its beginnings and the artists that perfected and mastered the craft.

The Shang-Chi actress, who got her start as a rapper a decade ago, went into the background of cultural appropriation of the African American community. She continued: 

It is a problem we still see today - though some may pass if off as convoluted mixture of the ‘internet TikTok slang generation’ that liberally uses AAVE, to add that hip hop - a genre of music that is ubiquitous and beloved across the country - has now anchored itself as a mainstream genre in music history. And in life, linguistic acculturation, immigrant acculturation, and the inevitable passage of globalized internet slang all play a factor in the fine line between offense and pop culture.

Awkwafina shared that AAVE (which is African-American Vernacular English), is a major part of American culture and a genre of music she and many Americans love, hip hop. She stated that there’s an “inevitable passage” of “linguistic acculturation” that could walk a fine line between being offensive and part of our collective culture. She also said: 

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, which is deemed appropriate or backwards toward the progress of ANY and EVERY marginalized group. But I must emphasize: To mock, belittle, or to be unkind in any way possible at the expense of others is: Simply. Not. My. Nature. It never has and it never was.

Awkwafina shared that she is “always” going to listen and she never meant to cause any harm. Here’s how the actress closed out her statement: 

My immigrant background allowed me to carve an American identity off the movies and tv shows I watched, the children I went to public school with, and my undying love and respect for hip hop. I think as a group, Asian Americans are still trying to figure out what that journey means for them - what is correct and where they don’t belong. And though I’m still learning and doing that personal work, I know for sure that I want to spend the rest of my career doing nothing but uplifting our communities. We do this first by failing, learning, acknowledging, hearing and empathizing… And I will continue, tirelessly, to do just that.

Awkwafina capped off her Twitter address with another pair of tweets, one that shared that per her therapist’s suggestion. With this, she will not be regularly posting on the social media platform. She thanked her fans for their support and love and said that she does “apologize” if she ever “fell short.” Check out what else she said: 

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Awkwafina stated that she will still be on other social media platforms, but will be “retiring” from Twitter. The 33-year-old got blunt when she suggested that comments on Twitter have asked her to kill herself, leading to her decision to get off of the app. The controversy has placed a lot of negative attention on Awkwafina and it sounds like she was the subject of some online bullying that has led other Hollywood talents to quit social media as well. 

Looking forward, the actress will lend her voice to The Bad Guys and as Scuttle in the live-action The Little Mermaid, which she has called a “mind-blowing experience.” Following the ending of Shang-Chi, we’d expect her character of Katy to return to the MCU. Given her rising star, it's very likely that the public will be seeing more of her in the near future.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.