Cynthy Wu Is Out To 'Reclaim The Narrative' For Asian Americans In Hollywood


It's no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem. All you have to do is look at the movie screen to see the overwhelming whiteness of the actors bearing down on you. Even characters who were originally people of color have been whitewashed, as in the case of 'The Ancient One' in Marvel's Doctor Strange, who in the comics was Tibetan, but in the movie was played by Tilda Swinton.

Recently, Ed Skrein stepped down from a role in Hellboy because the character was part Asian in the original comic. While Skrein is to be commended, it was the Asian American community that brought the issue into the public consciousness. Casting directors called the move a wake-up call, and the role has since been recast with Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean American actor.

Ed Skrein stepped down from a part in Hellboy because the character was part Asian in the original comic. The role has since been recast with Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean American actor. Photo Courtesy of Hollywood Reporter

Cynthy Wu, a Vietnamese and Chinese American actor, believes that vocal outpourings like this one signal a seismic shift in Hollywood from a culture of marginalization to one where Asian Americans are able to tell their own stories--behind and in front of the camera.

A Talent in the Making

Cynthy Wu has been acting professionally since 2012, and earlier this year she made waves with her role as Ally Harris in Before I Fall, an adaptation of a popular young adult novel about a girl who comes to terms with her mortality, as she finds herself reliving the last day of her life again and again.

"Cynthy Wu believes that vocal outpourings signal a seismic shift in Hollywood from a culture of marginalization to one where Asian Americans are able to tell their own stories." Photo Courtesy of IMDB

On top of several movies coming out next year, Wu is playing the role of Carol in the series Just Doug, currently available on Facebook Watch, the company's newly unveiled streaming platform. Like the titular Doug (played by Douglas Kim), Wu's character is an Asian American struggling to make it as an artist in Hollywood.

Refreshing Roles

"Too often in Hollywood," Wu explains, "an Asian American is cast as the 'quirky friend' of the (white) star, or the 'smart nerdy girl who answers questions and has five lines.'"

Even worse, Asian American actors have had crude stereotypes thrust upon them, as in the second episode of Just Doug, where the lead character is told to speak with a heavy accent if he wants a role in a sitcom.

Wu's character, on the other hand, gives her the opportunity to tell stories that haven't been told enough from an Asian American point of view. Carol is an ambitious writer who's "starting from the bottom, working hard, and trying her best to break through." By exploring Carol's professional and romantic journey, Wu reveals her to be so much more than a sidekick or a funny one-liner. "Not only is it refreshing for young Asian Americans to see these kinds of three-dimensional characters played by people who look like them," Wu notes. "But it's a reclaiming of identity, an opportunity for Asian Americans to express ourselves instead of letting others tell our stories."

"It’s encouraging for her to be part of shows like Just Doug, which has a majority Asian American cast, as well as writer and director." Photo Courtesy of ylwrngr

Towards a More Diverse Hollywood

When asked if she thinks there's a movement underway towards better representation, she expresses optimism. "This is where film and TV are going," she says. "The time when you'd see the same story over and over again for Asian American actors is coming to a close." It's encouraging for her to be part of shows like Just Doug, which has a majority Asian American cast, as well as writer and director. "It's nice to arrive on set and see a face like mine and think 'oh, I'm not alone, I'm not the only one doing this.'"

With shows like Just Doug, and movies like Crazy Rich Asians, the first major studio film with a majority Asian cast since 1993's The Joy Luck Club, it's hard to doubt Wu's optimism. The strides her and others are making toward representation will surely inspire a whole new generation to tell their own stories without hesitation and to reclaim their own narratives.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.