Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu’s recent revelation that she attempted suicide after receiving a firestorm of hate on social media in 2019 has sparked some investigations into the undue pressure on women of color in the spotlight, experts say .
At the time, Wu – who starred as matriarch Jessica Huang on the groundbreaking Asian-American show – expressed her disappointment after the sitcom’s renewal, including tweeting that she was “so upset right now I’m literally crying.”
The comments sparked a flood of hate across the internet, with the actress being branded “ungrateful”. Wu deleted the tweets, apologized and left social media for three years to avoid the spotlight. But on Thursday, she uncovered that after “a few DMs from another Asian actress told me I was going to be a nuisance to the Asian-American community, I started to feel like I didn’t even deserve to live anymore.”
Sociologists say the aggressive criticism that followed Wu highlights some glaring double standards in Hollywood.
Many on social media pointed out that when other high-profile actors like Robert Pattinson engaged in projects that had made them stars, they were portrayed as more relatable rather than the target of criticism. If they have taken steps to further their own career aspirations, as Wu said she hoped they would, they were met with respect, the sociologists said.
The contrast shows the unjustified pressure on people of color, especially women, to be pleasant, unwavering representatives of their community, experts say. They point to racist sexism, the lack of Asian-American roles in the industry at the time, and misplaced anger as part of the problem.
Catherine Ceniza Choy, author of Asian American Histories of the United States, points this out countless actorsmany of them know have expressed disappointment or regret at roles and projects in which they have been involved. The reaction to Wu’s comments most likely stems in part from stereotypes that Asian women are submissive and reserved, in addition to the patriarchal values ingrained in many Asian cultures, she added.
Choy said the collision of these factors creates an environment where Asian women are expected to conform to multiple circles in society. They may fail to be authentically themselves, she said, and those not seen as “compliant” can quickly fall out of favor.
“There’s this intersection of racism and gender and the types of pressures and expectations of Asian and Asian-American women to be personable,” Choy said. “If you present yourself in a way that could be construed as selfish or just anger, it goes against the broader expectations of the racial, societal, and Asian and Asian American communities. That is a very hard limit.”
Nadia Kim, a professor of Asian and Asian-American studies at Loyola Marymount University, similarly said that much of the hatred from other Asian-Americans shows that Wu was “offended” by the idea that she was “aligned with the Asian-American community at large”.
“We need to be really serious about internalized sexism and misogyny within our own community,” Kim said.
The backlash, experts say, is also an indication that women of color, especially those who wield power and influence, are not “allowed” to be complicated, imperfect people. Mistakes or expressions of emotion are often interpreted as character flaws and not simply mistakes or natural human reactions.
“In the United States, white people are becoming fully human, and ‘fully human’ means they can show all facets of themselves as humans – the good, the bad, the ugly, the complicated, complex, the heroic, the cowardly,” said Jennifer Ho, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The reality is, Choy said, Wu deserves the benefit of being seen as an artist.
“This is where people like Robert Pattinson and Chris Evans are seen as individual actors who are popular but are also part of a craft,” she said. “With an actress like Constance Wu, that might not be the first thing that comes to mind. It’s that burden of representation for a much broader community.”
The outrage at the time, the scholars concede, is somewhat understandable. Fresh Off the Boat, which premiered in 2015, aired at a time when Asian Americans had so few speaking roles and few leading roles on television. research shows that the majority of the shows that aired in 2015-16 did not feature a single Asian American or Pacific Islander in the main cast at all.
In this environment the sitcom proven to be groundbreaking and provided rare opportunities for Asian Americans both in front of and behind the camera. And so the show carried more weight for many.
“She had every right to have those feelings,” Ho said. “But to the rest of us, it seemed like someone didn’t really appreciate this opportunity. … I think there are so many Asian-American actors who would probably love to have taken on that role.”
“The guilt and the anger and the unwillingness to forgive are misplaced.”
The fact that Wu took to social media to vent her disappointment naturally opened her up to the court of public opinion, scholars said. And many viewers felt that Wu was not only disrespectful to the community, but also to Asian Americans whose livelihoods and careers depended on the show. But Kim pointed out that while Wu’s behavior wasn’t the most sensitive way to express her opinions, much of the venom was misdirected: Wu isn’t the primary reason Asian Americans have so few opportunities or examples of representation to look to be able.
“Who are we going to blame for the vast under-representation of a particular group and particular institutions? Are we going to blame them or should we blame those in positions of power that has resulted in us having almost no East or Southeast Asian family sitcoms,” Kim said. “The guilt and the anger and the unwillingness to forgive are misplaced.”
For justice to be achieved in the industry, actors like Wu must be given the grace to make mistakes or even act like an “asshole or a diva” like white actors do, Ho said. And while criticism is valid, she added that there is a way to do this constructively.
“We can disagree with that statement,” Ho said, “but we don’t have to attack it.”
If you or someone you know is going through a crisis, give us a call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit us SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/constance-wus-harassment-exposes-hollywoods-glaring-double-standards-rcna38334 Constance Wu’s molestation exposes Hollywood’s blatant double standards