Awkwafina: ‘Fame is not a cure for depression. It’s just not.’

20th Anniversary of Princess Diana's Death

Before now, I had never bothered to learn Awkwafina’s real name: Nora Lum. I’m going to call her Nora in this post, just because it’s easier to type out, and I get the feeling that this Harper’s Bazaar cover story is the very beginning of her transition to using Nora Lum more frequently in her professional life. Nora created the “Awkwafina” persona as a kid. She then used it as a stage name when she got into social media and music, and she sort of accidentally started using it for her acting career. Nora’s 32 years old, a recent Golden Globe nominee for The Farewell, and she’s got a million projects coming up, including Marvel’s Shang-Chi, the live-action Little Mermaid, a Netflix comedy and an AppleTV+ movie with Mahershala Ali (swoon). Some highlights from the Bazaar interview:

Imposter syndrome: “Yes, I always feel impostor syndrome because there are so many talented people out there. But I’m not going to today because I worked really f–king hard. My whole life has been spent with people having an idea of what I’m about to be, where I come from, how I was raised. I’ve spent my entire life walking into a room surprising them.”

The Awkwafina/Nora duality. “There is a duality. One is a stage name that entertains, and the other sleeps, eats, pees in the morning, and does normal things.”

Transitioning into Nora: “It wasn’t the time [for ‘The Farewell’]. I’d been Awkwafina in my first movie, I’d been Awkwafina in my first YouTube video. I haven’t had the kind of sign that it’s my time yet to be like, ‘It’s Nora now.’ I wonder what it will take to get me there… Awkwafina is still someone that comes without all of the layers of anxiety. She is more confident than Nora. Nora does hide behind her still. I don’t see how Nora exists in Awkwafina’s world yet. I don’t see how I could have done this without Awkwafina, which is weird.”

She’s an angry Bronx driver: “People would pick on us. People pick on Asian drivers. The most times I’ve been called ‘chink’ is out of a car window, being yelled at. So f–k them.”

Starting out in her 20s as a feminist rapper: Her first gig was performing at Sarah Lawrence, which earned her a check for $1,500. “It was the most money I had ever made, had ever seen at one time in my entire life,” she says. She quit her job working at a vegan deli and booked another gig, performing at Bust magazine’s anniversary party. She decided she would try to keep doing this. “I went into this mode of, if I can make $500 a month, that’s all I need, because that’s how much my rent was at the time. To this day I feel like I’m still in that ‘All I need is 500-a-month’ mindset.” She says she loved the days when she had a fake e-mail so she could pretend to be her own fake manager named Edward. “I made just enough, and I was able to do something that I loved doing so much. I just wanted it so bad. The truth is that the best years of your life are when you’re waiting for something big to happen.”

When everything started happening for her in 2018: “That summer, it was a lot of people being like, ‘Just enjoy, dude, just have fun, live in the moment.’ All this stuff started to come up. I wondered at a certain point, when everything in my life was amazing, why I felt so low and with no sense of identity. Why do I feel like no one knows me anymore? Maybe it does go back to depression. It comes in different forms your whole life. I was scared about what this meant: ‘Was this the pinnacle of all those years of waiting? And why do I feel like I don’t want it? I don’t want this to be the summer that that’s it.’  Fame is not a cure for depression. It’s just not. It’s not necessarily the cause of it, but it’s also not the cure of it.”

[From Harper’s Bazaar]

I saw The Farewell and I enjoyed the movie and her quiet performance in it. It did surprise me that she could play that character without any winks to the audience. I also think it’s pretty funny that she really did just fall backwards into a full-fledged acting career. She just wanted to create, to rap, to be funny and get paid, and now she’s doing, like, prestige indie films and taking calls from Disney and Marvel. It’s also fascinating to me that she created a persona/stage name to help her become a more confident person and now… people barely know that a “Nora Lum” exists. Anyway, she’s interesting. I look forward to seeing more from Nora.

Cover & IG courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar.

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13 Responses to “Awkwafina: ‘Fame is not a cure for depression. It’s just not.’”

  1. Amy Bee says:

    I’d say the transitioning to Nora Lum, has more to do with the Awkwafina persona being problematic especially in today’s climate. It would be great if she openly said that, but baby steps.

    • D says:

      The awkwafina character was super cringe and really made me not want to engage any further with her. How many POC in NY did she step over with her fall into fame by way of appropriating?

  2. Girl_ninja says:

    I’m not a fan. She’s been criticized her for appropriation with her Awkwafina character. I think she should acknowledge this. She has all of these projects because they’re a jump off of Awkwafina.

  3. Jane Doe says:

    She made her name appropriating Black culture in pretty awful ways.

  4. newmenow says:

    When will people stop thinking that having money, celebrity, or a partner will “fix” all their problems? It doesn’t. And it doesn’t cure depression or anything else either.
    I agree with her on this idea.

    • deering24 says:

      The society sells success-cures-everything horribly hard. And people are taught from the crib that externals are the key to happiness.

  5. Murphy says:

    Yeah I think she’s transitioning to Nora since that’s what her Nora From Queens show is called, which is hilarious by the way. I’m a big fan, can’t wait to see her in all these new projects!

  6. ash says:

    Just a correction there: She’s a GG WINNER for The Farewell, not only a nominee. That movie was great and deserved more attention!

  7. deering24 says:

    “The truth is that the best years of your life are when you’re waiting for something big to happen.”

    A lot of stars would agree with her, one suspects. True, you’re broke and struggling like crazy. But there’s a freedom in trying stuff out without fear–and not having to always top success with success, which is harder than becoming a star.

  8. tsk says:

    I am so ready for her. She got so many mean comments about her looks from mainland Chinese people over her role in the upcoming Shang-Chi Marvel movie, it was awful. I don’t know anything about a problematic past. I like her.

  9. Kärent says:

    I don’t know much about her appropriation but if it’s true she should apologize. problem is so should every white popstar, starting with ariana. no-one has really “come” for her. that’s interesting.

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