Awkwafina: 6 Important Things To Know About The Rapper-Turned-Actress

Awkwafina in Awkwafina is Nora From Queens

Since 2012, Awkwafina has been an artist on the rise; first for a viral music video and now for her performances in critically acclaimed movies like The Farewell. Awkwafina is quickly building a diverse body of work, from blockbusters to independent films. Her career evolution is making her an interesting artist to watch. One day, Awkwafina’s name could join the conversation of prestige actors.

Awkwafina began rapping at 13 and made her feature film debut in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising in 2016. In only a few years, she has gone from an artist only recognized by a niche group of fans to an award-winning actress. Awkwafina is a fascinating performer because her persona feels like a mythical character, and an extremely talented actress, writer, and performer. It is easy to become curious about the persona Awkwafina and the person Nora Lum.

Awkwafina in Crazy Rich Asians

Her Stage Name’s Origin Is Just As Unique As The Name Itself

Awkwafina was born in 1988 as Nora Lum. She chose her stage name at 15, and started going by it at 16. In a Galore interview, Awkwafina discussed how she thought the process of coming up with product names, especially names like Neutrogena and Aquafina, was funny. So she made her stage name Aquafina. A video producer told her that she needed to at least change the spelling of the name so they wouldn’t get sued by Pepsi.

He decided to create a new spelling of the word Aquafina, and Awkwafina was born. She also mentioned in an interview with Refinery29, that she saw the name as “a shield of confidence” when growing up. However, now the lines between Nora and Awkwafina intersect, one does not exist without the other.

Awkwafina in NYC Bitche$ Video

She Plans To Continue To Make Music

Awkwafina got a big break when the 2012 video for “My Vag” went viral. It was a response to Mickey Avalon’s song “My Dick.” She then recorded a few other hits, including “NYC Bitche$” and “Green Tea.” “Green Tea” discusses Asian stereotypes and features comedian Margaret Cho. In 2014, Awkwafina produced an 11-track album called Yellow Ranger. In 2018, she released a seven-track EP called In Fina We Trust. Music is what Awkwafina is most passionate about, and she started listening to rap at 11. In an interview with The Ringer, Awkwafina mentioned that she has been making music since 16, and doing it all by herself: mixing, producing, and writing songs.

In that 2017 Ringer interview, Awkwafina said that she had no plans to give up music, because it was something she could control. She also said that she gave up on trying to reach the masses. Awkwafina mentioned that she accepts that her fan base will always be small and niche, and that she would have a difficult road if she tried to become a mainstream artist.

Awkwafina in Bad Rap

She Is The Subject Of A Rap Documentary

In 2016, a documentary called Bad Rap profiles four Asian American hip-hop artists: Awkwafina, Dumbfounddead, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks. It addresses their struggles as Asian Americans trying to make it in the hip-hop world. The film made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016. It then went on to tour the film festival circuit. Bad Rap won Best Documentary Feature at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.

Bad Rap explores the factors that may prohibit Asian American hip-hop artists from becoming household names. It also features commentary from other Asian hip-hop artists. In the documentary, Awkwafina discusses being a marginalized a hip-hop artist, both as an Asian American and as a woman. Bad Rap is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell

She Has A Close Relationship With Her Grandmother

The Farewell is a movie based on Lulu Wang’s real life experience. In the film, Awkwafina plays Billi. Billi’s Chinese family returns to China because her grandmother has been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, and she only has a short time left to live. They decide to keep her in the dark about her health condition, and instead, they tell Billie’s grandmother that everyone is gathering for the wedding of a cousin. Awkwafina felt this was her most personal role so far, because she is very close with her grandmother. She also related to Billi’s struggle of not feeling at home in China or America.

Awkwafina’s mother died when she was four. Her single father and paternal grandparents raised her, which led to her developing a close bond with her grandmother. Her new semi-autobiographical Comedy Central series Awkwafina is Nora From Queens also highlights their relationship.

Awkwafina also often shares stories about her grandmother on late night talk shows, like on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. On Ellen, Awkwafina mentioned how her grandmother now sees all of her movies because she felt guilty about walking out at the end of a screener of The Farewell. Awkwafina also talked about wanting her grandmother to be her date to the Golden Globes. Sometimes Awkwafina posts pictures of her grandmother on her social media pages and gets her involved in her projects, like having her appear in the video for Awkwafina’s song “Pockiez.”

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Awkwafina in The Farewell

Her Golden Globes Win Made History

Awkwafina won the 2020 Golden Globe for Best Performance By An Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy for her role in The Farewell. This was the first time someone of East Asian descent won the Best Actress award in that category. This was also the first time an Asian American actress won a Golden Globe for a lead role in the film categories. Her nomination was also only the second time an Asian woman received a best lead actress nomination at the Golden Globes. Constance Wu was the first in 2019 for her role in Crazy Rich Asians.

Awkwafina is also only one of six actresses of Asian descent to receive a nomination in the Golden Globes’ Comedy and Musical category. This is a huge victory for Awkwafina as a young actress, and especially as the first Asian American one in this category.

Awkwafina in Jumanji: The Next Level

She Has Some Major Movie Projects In Development

Awkwafina has already been building an impressive resume of film projects, and this resume continues to grow. She ended 2019 by appearing in Jumanji: The Next Level with Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Nick Jonas, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan.

In 2020, she voices a character in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. Also that year, she lends her voice to the upcoming animated Disney film Raya and the Last Dragon. She plays the dragon Sisu. In 2021, Awkwafina enters the Marvel world by appearing in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Awkwafina also has a comedy in the works with an all-star cast. The film is called Breaking News in Yuba County and the cast includes Allison Janney, Mila Kunis, and Regina Hall.

Awkwafina continues to challenge herself as an artist by taking on unexpected roles, and by producing and developing her own music. As she becomes a more well-rounded performer, Awkwafina stays true to her Nora from Queens roots. Awkwafina is Nora from Queens is currently airing every Wednesday on Comedy Central.

Jerrica Tisdale
Freelance Writer

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.