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Awkwafina Makes Splash in West Addition

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“I took a chance, you know, and it worked out,” said comedic rapper, soon-to-be movie star, and University at Albany alum, Nora Lum, also known as “Awkwafina.”

Lum walked through the Science Library halls, reminiscing about being a student here. She remembered walking down Fuller Road, walking through Stuyvesant Plaza, and living on Empire Commons. This was Lum’s second time back on campus since she graduated.

She made her way to her meet-and-greet, where she signed autographs and took pictures with students, before having an on-stage interview with Steve Barnes, a journalism professor and senior writer at the Times Union.

Lum first gained fame after releasing a music video for her song “My Vag” on YouTube back in 2012. It gained almost two million views.

“I was sitting on it for quite a while,” said Lum. “I was 19 when I wrote it. I actually wrote it here.” She released the song after graduation.
About six or seven years after writing it, her friend heard it and decided that they needed to make a music video.

“It took a while,” she said. “I was working in a full-time job at the time, so I was scared to put it out.”

But Lum took a chance.

Upon uploading it online, she has gained more success every year since then, releasing multiple songs, videos, and making appearances in films. She has even guest-starred on MTV’s “Girl Code.”

One of Awkwafina’s latest achievements was being cast in two upcoming major motion pictures. Lum will star in the upcoming heist comedy “Ocean’s Eight,” a sequel to the original Ocean’s films, but an all-female adaptation. She will also be in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” based on the best-selling book by Kevin Kwan.

“I still don’t know if I can act,” she said. “It was an honor to do both of those movies. They were their own individual, amazing experiences.”

Recent films like “Ghost in the Shell,” “Aloha,” and “Doctor Strange” have received backlash for casting white actors in Asian roles. Lum felt that such whitewashing in film is an issue, but Hollywood has seemingly developed its own way of dealing with the matter.

Lum explained that instead of putting the issue entirely in the casting director’s’ hands, it is also up to the actors themselves. She cited actor Ed Skrein who recently dropped out of the “Hellboy” reboot after learning more about his character. After realizing his character, Maj, was Japanese-American, Skrein decided to step down from the role.

“I think that that’s a greater achievement,” Lum said. “If people police themselves and say that this is not fair, then it turns into a fairer system.”

One of Lum’s upcoming films, “Crazy Rich Asians,” is based on Kevin Kwan’s comedic novel about three wealthy Chinese families and the drama that ensues when the heir to a massive Asian fortune brings home his American-born Chinese girlfriend, Rachel Chu.

Lum plays Goh Peik Lin, Chu’s generous-but-shopaholic college friend. Lum is both Chinese from her father’s side and South Korean from her mother’s side. The film is comprised of an almost-all Asian cast, including Constance Wu, Harry Shum Jr, and Gemma Chan.

Lum explained that she is a feminist, but was initially afraid to use that label.

“I think that in the beginning I was scared to tell people that I was a feminist because I didn’t want feminists to pick apart the language of all of my songs,” she said. “I didn’t want to be yelled at on both sides, but at the end of the day, how can you not say you’re a feminist?”

In terms of the current political situation in the United States, Lum is very worried though.

“I’m very stressed out by our current political climate, but I also feel like it builds a strong sense of solidarity between a lot of people who are upset about it, so you don’t feel like you’re alone in all of this. I commend all of those women that are there and still fighting for what’s right.”

Lum’s career is certainly taking off. She still makes music, but seems to be focused on film at the moment with her two major movies being released next year.

“Ocean’s Eight” is set to be released on June 8 of next year and “Crazy Rich Asians” does not yet have a set release date.
“I still don’t know if I can act,” said Lum. “I’ve never seen it, but we’ll see.”

Class of '18: Jasmine Millner is a journalism major at the University at Albany. She also works for campus recreation as a program assistant and zumba instructor. When she’s not writing for the ASP, she’s on the e-board for Stilettos Dance Team, a member of Phenomenal Voices, and produces a show on Albany Student Television, Girl Talk.

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