Movies and Shows

The Perfect Awkwafina Movie To Watch After Shang-Chi

With her turn as Katy in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, there is the perfect Awkwafina movie to watch after seeing Marvel’s latest record-breaker. The Chinese-American actress and rapper first broke out in 2012 when her song “My Vag” went viral on YouTube. Shortly afterward, she played supporting roles in movies like Neighbors 2: Sorority RisingOcean’s 8Crazy Rich Asians, and Jumanji: The Next Level.

Not only does Awkwafina’s role in Shang-Chi officially mark her introduction in the MCU, it effectively complements her work in other Hollywood films that predominantly spotlight Asian-centric narratives. Historically speaking, movies focused on the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) experience have been egregiously lacking in Hollywood – for example, Marvel took 20 years to make Shang-Chi – yet the bulk of Awkwafina’s body of work seems to be tackling that disparity head-on. Indeed, her filmography is a constellation of milestones for Asian-American cinema. Shang-Chi broke Labor Day box office records, Crazy Rich Asians was the first major studio film to feature an all-Asian cast since 1993, and Raya and the Last Dragon introduced the first Southeast Asian Disney princess.

Her best work to date, however, and the perfect companion movie to Shang-Chi, is The Farewell. Directed by Lulu Wang, it follows a Chinese family who learns that their grandmother is terminally ill, prompting them to organize a wedding to bring everyone together before her death. Awkwafina plays Billi, whose American upbringing clashes with the Chinese tradition of lying to a relative about the severity of their diagnosis as it is a belief in China that telling them about it will cause them to die of fear of the disease. In fact, The Farewell is based on the true story of Nai Nai, Wang’s own grandmother, and it’s what makes The Farewell so interesting to watch after Shang-Chi. Both of Awkwafina’s characters in each movie offer similar yet different perspectives on the mercurial experience of being Chinese-American, particularly regarding ideas of the self versus the family. The concept that family comes first is foundational in Chinese culture, but both Katy and Billi struggle to harmonize that tradition with the American individualistic culture that surrounds them. Katy, for instance, constantly fights with her mother over her personal choices in Shang-Chi.

Shang-Chi and The Farewell also serve as interesting bookends for one another in how that central conflict resolves in different ways. In the former, Katy is only able to come into her own after finally getting away from familial influence and obligation. Now that she’s a skilled archer, Katy’s MCU future after Shang-Chi is certain to explore her newfound role as heroine. That she accomplished all of this by returning to China on her own and mastering the bow and arrow serves as the perfect metaphor for how a return to cultural basics helped to find her true self.

Conversely, Billi’s arc in The Farewell was about learning to set aside her personal beliefs in order to uphold her family’s wishes. Her return to China, and being surrounded by her non-American and non-English-speaking relatives, helped her get in touch with traditions that were otherwise lost in her American life. Even though it caused her emotional anguish, Billi went along with lying to her grandmother because it was what her family wanted. In one, her American individualism and freedom win out; in the other, her adherence to the collective wishes of her Chinese family is the end result.

On a lighter note, just as “Hotel California” is the song in Shang-Chi‘s karaoke scene, The Farewell sees Awkwafina singing “Killing Me Softly” with her slightly inebriated father. The karaoke scenes function as moments of levity, but they also add a much-needed element of cultural specificity to both movies, which is vital. When it comes to stories that illustrate the experiences of the underrepresented, it’s the cultural grace notes that really make a movie sing and both Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings and The Farewell build on those touches masterfully.

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