Constance Wu was sexually harassed on Fresh Off The Boat — the show she was relentlessly attacked for wanting to leave — but never outed her abuser because he was Asian American. She didn’t want to direct more racism and vitriol toward him or their groundbreaking show because she knew the scrutiny it would already be under. And that’s exactly why its so complicated to be a woman of colour: you always have to show racial solidarity, even if it kills you.
The Crazy Rich Asians star read snippets of her upcoming memoir at the Atlantic Festival on Friday when she revealed she was sexually harassed while working on Fresh Off The Boat, a ground-breaking show about working-class Asian Americans.
“I did have a pretty traumatic experience my first couple years on that show, and nobody knew about it because that show is historic for Asian Americans,” she told the audience.
“And it was the only show on network television, in over 20 years, to star Asian Americans, and I did not want to sully the reputation of the one show we had representing us.
“So therefore, I kept my mouth shut for a really long time about a lot of the sexual harassment and intimidation that I received the first two seasons of the show.”
I had a pretty traumatic experience my first couple of years on ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ @ConstanceWu says at #TAF22. “That show was historic for Asian Americans … and I did not want to sully the reputation of the one show we had representing us. So I kept my mouth shut.” pic.twitter.com/fR4KJyYoKm
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) September 23, 2022
According to The New York Times, Wu said the producer (who isn’t named in her book) touched her inappropriately, “controlled her” and demanded “she run all her business matters past him” including “telling her what to wear”.
After the series’ first two seasons, Wu’s confidence grew and she was “no longer scared of losing my job” and began “saying ‘no’ to the harassment, ‘no’ to the intimidation from this particular producer.” She got to a place where she was able to handle it all herself — though she should never have had to.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I handled it. Nobody has to know,’” she said.
“‘I don’t have to stain this Asian American producer’s reputation. I don’t have to stain the reputation of the show.’”
Constance Wu dealing with sexual harassment quietly for years for the sake of representation is an indictment on what women of colour in the public eye have to endure every day.
It reminds me of when Megan Thee Stallion initially said Tory Lanez shot her by accident, because she didn’t want him to be murdered by police as a Black man.
Honestly, it reminds me of myself, and all the times I have refrained from speaking publicly about the daily hate I receive from Muslim men as a Muslim, hijab-wearing woman in the media.
Because we’re women and also non-white, women of colour like Megan, Constance and myself get the short end of both sticks. On the one side we have to deal with racism from white people (or even just anyone from races that aren’t ours), and on the other hand we deal with misogyny from all men including our own.
It leaves us in an impossible situation. If we speak out, the abuse or harassment we endure might stop — but it’ll come at a price. We know that by openly and publicly discussing the misogyny issues in our community, our words will inevitably be co-opted by racists and used against us to justify negative stereotypes about our community. Racists will use us as a case study to argue that “see, these people ARE backwards”.
So we turn to the other choice: we stay silent. We deal with the hurt and we move on, because that is the cost of racial solidarity with our peers. That is the cost of not contributing to racist talking points. That is the cost of being positive representation of our community.
The failure of the Asian American community to protect and support Constance Wu in her moment of need shows how we desperately need a complete overhaul of the representation framework https://t.co/Jg0LNTfori
— Kazumi Chin (@kazumiochin) September 23, 2022
Constance Wu chose to allow Asian Americans to continue having the representation they deserved, at the expense of her safety and wellbeing. She chose racial solidarity over herself, but as we’ve learned from her Twitter exit two years ago, nothing women of colour do is ever enough.
In 2019, Fresh Off The Boat was meant to end but was renewed last-minute for a sixth season, which blindsided Wu who had been trying to leave the franchise.
“So upset right now that I’m literally crying,” Wu complained in the tweet at the time. She said she wanted to pursue other projects (which is reasonable and fair), but while speaking to the panel on Friday, she revealed she “wanted to have a fresh slate where I didn’t have to start a show with all these memories of abuse”.
Fans accused Wu of failing the Asian community just because she wanted out of a show that — while being groundbreaking and close to many of our hearts — employed some pretty overtired stereotypes.
Wu was almost driven to suicide because of the vitriol directed her way, mostly from other Asian Americans who attacked her for no longer wanting to be the representation they craved.
“I felt awful about what I’d said, and when a few DMs from a fellow Asian actress told me I’d become a blight on the Asian American community, I started feeling like I didn’t deserve to live anymore,” she said upon her return to Twitter.
“That I was a disgrace to AsAms (Asian Americans), and they’d be better off without me.”
Thinking about the long history of Asian women having to endure so much in Hollywood. From Anna May Wong to Constance Wu, pressure to continue with roles or working environments you’re reluctantly stuck with as figureheads of representation…what a tough lonely island to be on.
— Reel and Roll Films – I STAND WITH THE WGA (@reelandroll) September 24, 2022
Now, after this information has come out, former haters are finding sympathy for Constance Wu. But why does it have to come to this?
Women of colour carry the burden of representation on their shoulders every day, and at some point we have to consider the cost.
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