Nora Lum, known professionally as Awkwafina, is an American actress, comedian, writer, producer, and rapper. She rose to prominence in 2012 when her rap song "My Vag" became popular on YouTube. She then released her debut album, Yellow Ranger, and appeared on the MTV comedy series Girl Code. Her second album, In Fina We Trust, was released in 2018.
She played the supporting roles in the comedy films ', Ocean's 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and '. She played a leading role in the comedy-drama film The Farewell, for which she received critical acclaim and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, becoming the first woman of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in any lead actress film category.
Awkwafina is co-creator, writer and executive producer of the Comedy Central series Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, in which she stars as a fictionalized version of herself.
Early lifeLum was born in Stony Brook, New York, on Long Island, to a Chinese American father, Wally, and a Korean American mother, Tia, a painter who immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1972. Lum grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. Her mother died from pulmonary hypertension when Lum was four and she was raised by her father and paternal grandparents, becoming especially close to her paternal grandmother. One of her paternal great-grandfathers was a Chinese immigrant in the 1940s who opened the Cantonese restaurant Lum's in Flushing, Queens, one of the neighborhood's first Chinese restaurants.
Lum attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, where she played the trumpet and was trained in classical music and jazz. At age 16, she adopted the stage name Awkwafina, "definitely a person I repressed" and an alter ego to her "quiet and more passive" personality during her college years. Lum majored in journalism and women's studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York.
Awkwafina states that Charles Bukowski, Anaïs Nin, Joan Didion, Tom Waits and Chet Baker were early influences. Prior to her career in entertainment, she was an intern at local New York publications Gotham Gazette and the Times Union newspaper in Albany, and was a publicity assistant for the publishing house Rodale Books. She later worked at a vegan bodega after being let go from the publishing house when they discovered her music videos.
MusicAwkwafina began rapping at age 13. She got her start producing music with GarageBand but eventually learned Logic Pro and Ableton. In 2012 one of her songs, "My Vag", became popular on YouTube. She originally wrote the song while in college as a response to Mickey Avalon's "My Dick". Due to the nature of the lyrics, she wore glasses to mask her identity, but was still subsequently fired from her job at a publishing house when her employer recognized her voice.
Her solo hip-hop album Yellow Ranger was released on February 11, 2014. The album consists of 11 tracks and includes a number of her previous singles released via YouTube, including the title track "Yellow Ranger", "Queef" and "NYC Bitche$". In 2016, she collaborated with comedian Margaret Cho on "Green Tea", a song that pokes fun at Asian stereotypes.
She was part of the lineup at Tenacious D's Festival Supreme on October 25, 2014. Awkwafina was also a disc jockey at bars in New York.
Awkwafina is profiled in the 2016 documentary Bad Rap, which was an official selection at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The film puts the spotlight on her as well as other fellow Asian-American rappers such as Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks.
She released an EP called In Fina We Trust which consists of 7 tracks on June 8, 2018.
ActingIn 2014, Awkwafina was in the third season of Girl Code, appearing in six episodes of the third and fourth seasons. In 2015, she served as co-host for the spin-off titled Girl Code Live on MTV. She was the host of the short-form talk show web series Tawk for the digital production company Astronauts Wanted from 2015 to 2017. The first season premiered on YouTube and was later picked up for exclusive streaming on Verizon's Go90 platform. The show was an Official Honoree at the 2016 Webby Awards and was nominated for a 2016 Streamy Award in the News and Culture category.
In 2016, Awkwafina played a supporting role as Christine, a member of Kappa Nu in ', and voiced the role Quail in the animated comedy film Storks. In 2018, she starred in the indie comedy Dude, playing Rebecca, one of four best friends in the film. She was part of the principal cast in Ocean's 8, the all-female spinoff to the Ocean's Trilogy. She then co-starred in the film Crazy Rich Asians, directed by John M. Chu. She played Goh Peik Lin, a Singaporean college friend of lead character Rachel Chu.
She has a recurring role in the Hulu original series Future Man in 2017. She hosted the 2018 iHeartRadio MMVAs. She hosted the October 6, 2018, episode of Saturday Night Live, becoming the second East Asian-American female celebrity to host the show. Her celebrity impression for the episode was Sandra Oh.
In 2019, she starred in the film The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang. The film received critical acclaim and she played the lead role of Billi, a writer who visits her ill grandmother in China. It earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. This made her the first person of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe Award in any lead actress film category, after being only the sixth woman of Asian descent to be nominated in the lead actress in a musical or comedy category. In the same year, she starred as avatar Ming Fleetfoot in the film ', which turned to be a commercial success.
In July 2019, Awkwafina was cast in Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, alongside actors Simu Liu and Tony Leung Chiu-wai. The film is slated to be released on May 7, 2021.
She stars in the comedy series Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens; she is also writer and executive producer of that show. As part of the promotional campaign, she recorded new announcements for the 7 train of the New York City Subway, making jokes, such as "This is Hunters Point Avenue, a friendly reminder that seats are for people, not your bag" and "This is 46th Street, which is a lucky number, I just learned that on the internet. Also learned that pigeons and doves are the same thing, WHAT?!", at every stop. These recordings were used until the series premiered on January 22.
Awkwafina used an "Asian gangster New Yorker persona" in her Crazy Rich Asians role and rapped using a "Blaccent" on My Vag, which met with criticisms of misappropriating African-American culture.
In the mediaAwkwafina has expressed support for Time's Up, a movement started by Hollywood celebrities against sexual harassment. She has also advocated for the need for more female directors and against the stereotyping of Asians in media.
She was featured in Gap's "Logo Remix" campaign, which featured up-and-coming artists who "are remixing creative culture on their own terms," such as SZA, Sabrina Claudio and Naomi Watanabe.
In 2015, she released the guidebook, Awkwafina's NYC.
On May 16, 2019 she headlined The Infatuation's annual food festival, EEEEEATSCON. She spoke about her upbringing in Queens, where her family owned a Cantonese restaurant.
|Denotes films that have not yet been released|
|"NYC Bitche$"||2013||Yellow Ranger|
|"Mayor Bloomberg "||2013||Yellow Ranger|
|"Come Stop Me"||2014||-|
|"Pockiez"||2018||In Fina We Trust|