Constance Wu & Loretta Ross at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.
- Please welcome Constance Wu and Loretta J. Ross.
CONSTANCE WU: Hey, everybody. How y'all doing?
LORETTA J. ROSS: How y'all doing? I'm a Southerner, so we always say "y'all."
CONSTANCE WU: I say "y'all" too. It's just, like, friendly. It's inclusive.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, you're from Virginia. You're a southerner too.
CONSTANCE WU: That's true-- Richmond, Virginia. That's right.
LORETTA J. ROSS: All right, I just want to say what an honor it is to be on stage with you.
CONSTANCE WU: Oh, likewise. Thank you.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Honored-- very much so. But I want to get right into it because I've been writing about the call-out culture for the last seven years. And what happened to you was very terrible. How did it feel to have not one person saying something bad about you, but thousands saying the same thing at the same time?
CONSTANCE WU: Oh, it felt great.
LORETTA J. ROSS: [LAUGHING]
CONSTANCE WU: No, I mean it was very painful. It was very lonely, like I don't even-- it's making me cry even thinking about it. Yeah, it's hard.
But it ultimately forced me to get the help that I had been sort of neglecting and look at things that I had been trying to push away for the sake of other people's reputations and get the help I needed to be better, kinder, more empathetic-- a better artist. So it took some time, but ultimately, I feel stronger because of it.
LORETTA J. ROSS: What do you wish somebody had said to you to call you in instead of calling you out-- because that may have made a difference.
CONSTANCE WU: Yeah, you're going to make me cry. Yeah, I mean, because it was like the whole Asian-American community sort of turned against me because I just did something kind of reckless in a moment of heat. And I think what would have meant a lot to me is somebody, instead of judging me, had said, hey, are you OK. That's it.
And even when I first told-- I actually did tell a couple of people, the second season of "Fresh Off the Boat," about being sexually harassed and threatened. And one of them was a very prominent male, Asian-American activist. And he didn't even ask if I was OK. He didn't encourage me to report it to HR because he was friends with my abuser, and he knew that my abuser was the one who produced the show, and he wanted the show to do well.
And I'm like, if even this guy, this Harvard-educated, prominent, Asian-American activist doesn't care about my safety when I am telling him this thing happened to me, then who else is going to believe? And so I just shut up after that. And I think if he-- first of all, he was like, oh-- he tried to blame it on me when I confronted him later, which is so typical.
It's like, well, I just thought you wanted it to be private. And I was like, well, why would I have told you if I wanted-- and he was like, well, you just always were so private. It was because of you being, like, so quiet. And he was like, I should have asked you for more details. I was like, no, actually, if you didn't want to invade my privacy, you shouldn't have asked me for more details.
You should have directed me to the right resources. You should have told me, hey, there are people that you can talk to about-- like, first of all, are you OK? Do you feel safe? Do you know what HR is?
Because I did not. I had only had waitressing jobs before that. I didn't know what an HR department was. This is before the MeToo movement. Like, if he had even said, hey, you should talk to somebody about this, whether it's a therapist, a colleague, or HR. But he just went, "oh," and then continued on his business and never confronted it again until very recently when I wrote about it in my book and he was like, oh, shit.
And I actually helped him out now because I was like, hey, I don't mention you by name, but it's-- you could probably figure it out. So I just want to give you a heads up that I talk about this just so it doesn't blindside you and also because what an amazing opportunity it would have been for him to really show up and be an example for other Asian-American men to take ownership of their inaction around our Asian-American culture's history of patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. We don't talk about it.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Absolutely.
CONSTANCE WU: But missed opportunity-- but I tried.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Opportunity to grow.
CONSTANCE WU: Yes, there is still time for him, if he's watching.
LORETTA J. ROSS: In your book of essays, you talk a lot about representation. And I was one of the early Black women involved in the anti-rape movement. And we were preoccupied with not besmirching the reputation of the very Black men who were raping us. So how did representation and not wanting to let your community down or expose this dirty laundry affect you?
CONSTANCE WU: That's a really important question. And I think it's honestly one I don't have the answer to. But I think it's one that, in order to find the answer, in order to start solving the problem, you need to at least put light on the question because the guy-- the Asian-American producer who sexually harassed me and threatened me-- he does, honestly, really good work for the Asian-American community. And I don't want to negate that.
But I don't want it to be at the expense of women's safety and well-being. So it's a hard thing to navigate. How did it feel for you?
LORETTA J. ROSS: I had to learn at an early age that people are more complicated than the angel devils I wanted them to be-- that there are good people who do bad things and bad people who do good things. And as a rape survivor, I had to work with men who were rapists and murderers. And so I had to humanize them instead of dehumanizing them. But that's what I feel that's part of your journey. You're learning to humanize someone who has hurt you but not forgetting his humanity and his contributions at the same time.
CONSTANCE WU: I mean, one thing that some people find controversial in my book is-- because I'm also a rape survivor and I have one essay where I talk about that-- and some people think that I'm showing "compassion" for my rapist. And I can understand how it might be perceived that way. And people say, he doesn't deserve it or whatever.
And I was like, it's not about whether or not he deserves it. I tried to think of what he might have been going through because it makes me feel better. It makes me blame myself less. So they say forgiveness isn't about the other person and whether or not they deserve it. Forgiveness is often about taking a weight off your own heart.
And if anyone deserves to not have a weight on their heart, it's the rape victim, not the rapist, right? So you have to do the thing that heals your heart the best. And for some people, that might be like, fuck you. Or can I say that here? I don't know.
But like, yeah, fuck you, seriously. And that's a part of the journey, right? I definitely had some "fuck you's" along the way. And for me, it was also, like, trying to understand-- if I'm asking people to try to understand my mistakes-- trying to understand where somebody else might have come from-- not to excuse it, but just to understand it.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, in making a scene, you very clearly indicated that somebody else's dirty fingerprints weren't going to determine who you are. Tell me what the process of birthing a book and a baby in the same period of COVID felt like.
CONSTANCE WU: Oh, gosh-- it felt like my shoulders went from here [SIGH] to there because I had been, like-- I'd been holding back so much stuff that had happened to me just for the sake of keeping the reputation of this Asian-American community up. And I'm kind of sick of doing that.
I think Asian-Americans have become obsessed with positive representation. And I think we don't need that. I think we need whole, human representation, which includes everything. It includes the parts we're ashamed of. It includes our fears.
It's not just being the superhero, being the rom-com star. It's being the whole human being. And the more we're scared to show our uglier bits, the more lonely we're going to be. And so I think that's why my shoulders went from here [SIGH] to here.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Thank you. So we're going from the myth of the model minority, right, into humanizing people and showing all of their dimensions-- and not just representative of a community, but the actual human beings that they are. And that seems to be very important for you to make in your book-- a really important point to make.
CONSTANCE WU: Yeah, and a lot of people have been like, oh, you're so brave for showing some unflattering parts of yourself. And I'm like, I don't think I'm actually brave. I think I'm just tired.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Tired of playing a role.
CONSTANCE WU: Tired of pretending that I'm a perfect picture of grace-- because I ain't, you know? But sometimes I can be, and sometimes I'm not. So it's like, we need to have space for that. So yeah, I think I just got tired of it.
LORETTA J. ROSS: So since you've spoken so openly about mental health challenges, are people coming up to you, now, and sharing stories that they've been afraid to tell others previously?
CONSTANCE WU: I think people are sharing-- people have been sharing a lot of stories, yes, that they've been afraid to talk about and also just sharing fears and stigmas around asking for mental health help. I mean, even any type of vulnerability-- like, there's an episode of "Fresh Off the Boat" that's all about how East Asians don't say "I love you" and how that's, like, bad and wrong and, like, weird.
And I'm like, there are way badder things than saying "I love you" to your parents. There are. But it's like, that's the worst thing. There's a whole episode written about it that a lot of people identified with.
And if we can't even have the vulnerability to say to our parents, or them to say to us, I love you-- I love you, mom, I love you, dad, thanks for, like, whatever-- then how will we have the vulnerability to be like, I need to help? So yeah, I mean, opening up that conversation instead of just focusing on all the positive parts of our culture, I think, is important to the first step of admitting that you need help because things aren't perfect.
LORETTA J. ROSS: So how was it to stay away three years from social media?
CONSTANCE WU: Fantastic.
LORETTA J. ROSS: And then to re-enter it-- how did you feel about being--
CONSTANCE WU: Oh, man, I didn't want to. I fought my publisher on it for a really, really long time because they really wanted me to. And I was like, no, like, I almost lost my life because of it, truly.
I think we had different goals, though. I think my publisher wanted to sell more books, obviously. But I didn't, actually. What I realized was my biggest goal was to help people who were going through what I went through. And what drove me to a suicide attempt was social media.
So a lot of people don't read books, you know? So it's like, how do I reach the people who I'm trying to help? How do I reach the people who aren't going to buy my book? That's who I want to take care of right now.
And it's going to be through talking about my experience through social media and letting them know it's OK to seek help. And so that's why I ultimately came back, is because even though I was scared of it, the way it might help somebody meant more to me than my fear of it did. So I'm back on social media.
LORETTA J. ROSS: You looked your fear in the face and said, you're not going to-- I'm not going to let it stop me.
CONSTANCE WU: Or I'm going to use you-- you, as if social media's a person-- to help somebody else.
LORETTA J. ROSS: OK, thank you. I think your publisher is Simon & Schuster.
CONSTANCE WU: Scribner, which is a Simon & Schuster imprint.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Yes. I've always described writing and publishing as walking down the street naked and inviting the world to take pot shots at your body because you're putting it out there. How was that? What was your concern about the reaction to your book?
CONSTANCE WU: My biggest concern wasn't that because I think you have to get over that very quickly when you're an actress. Get over trying to control your perception. And my biggest thing of writing this was to just let go of that. So yeah, it kind of is similar to that.
But for me, it's like it's similar to walking down the street naked, as yourself, when, for the past six years, you've been walking down the street in heels and Spanx and eyelash extensions. And she's like, oh, great, I could just fart on the road. It's a relief. The hardest thing for me was actually sharing it with my family. Yeah, because I--
LORETTA J. ROSS: Tell us more about that.
CONSTANCE WU: Well, I write about them. I write about my parents and some very private things. And obviously, I shared it with them before I published it because I wanted to have permission. But yeah, that was-- because, like I said, there is a stigma or a discomfort in Asian families around mental health, around uncomfortable issues, around vulnerability. And what's more vulnerable than, like, saying, hey, this is this thing I wrote?
So I wrote an essay about my little sister. That's actually my favorite essay in the book. And I shared that with her. And then, one about my parents-- I shared that with them. They had a couple of notes.
You know what's funny? I say some not-flattering things about my mom in my book. I say some mean things she did. That wasn't what she had the problem with.
She said-- so I talked about how beautiful she used to be, like how my teachers would be, your mom's so beautiful. She's like, why did you say I'm beautiful? I'm not that beautiful. My face is too round. And that's what she was upset about.
I was like, Mom, I'm not going to take that part. Are you sure you don't want me to take out the part where you refused to take Dad to the hospital because you thought he was faking? (IMITATING HER MOM) No, no, but why did you think I was pretty? I was like, oh my God-- all right, great, cool, if that's the part that concerns you. So it's funny because it was a relief.
And then, with my little sister, it was lovely because I write about how we were so close when we were kids. And then, when I went to middle school-- and she's a couple of years younger than me-- she started having her own friend group. And I sort of felt scared that I was losing her as my best friend. But because of that, I pretended I wasn't scared, pretended I didn't need her and didn't care and had my own friends, when, really, I loved her and missed her so much. And I was like, but she doesn't want me anymore.
And it's interesting because I had her read the essay. And she said, well you got a few things wrong. You didn't write about how I was your follower and how you were the bold one, the one who made it safe for me to try things. And you missed the part about how, when you went to middle school, how much I missed you, too. And the word "too" just made me start crying because the whole time I was like, oh, I thought you just didn't need me, you didn't like me anymore. She was like, no, you were the bold one. I missed you a lot.
And so it brought us closer together. But that was hard. That was the hardest part, was sharing it with my family, for sure.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Was it hard for your family to read what had happened to you?
CONSTANCE WU: They haven't talked about it to me yet because Asian families avoid the uncomfortable conversations. So yeah, no one's been like, oh, I didn't know you were raped. It's, like, nothing.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Crickets.
CONSTANCE WU: It's there. It's there. I'm open to talking about it. One of my sisters who I didn't write about was a little upset that I didn't write about her.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Of course.
CONSTANCE WU: [SIGH] I didn't. But yeah, it hasn't come up yet.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Let's pull the lens out and look larger. Why do you think, besides the obvious-- the question-- there's so little representation of Asian-American actors and actresses in the whole industry? I mean, we went from the Kung Fu period--
CONSTANCE WU: Oh, honey, if I knew that--
LORETTA J. ROSS: --to the dangerous--
CONSTANCE WU: --that would solve everything.
LORETTA J. ROSS: --assassin-spy period. I mean, obviously, what needs to change to change that?
CONSTANCE WU: I don't know. If I had the answer to that, I'd be, like--
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, I can say a whole lot of mediocre white men need to lose their jobs. But I don't want to say that. I didn't say that, so--
CONSTANCE WU: That's one way.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Because they're the ones making decisions about mediocre people getting a lot more play than the people with--
CONSTANCE WU: They are, but how do you take their jobs?
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, I would maintain they cheat because they can't compete. But that's just me.
CONSTANCE WU: Yeah, no, and they try to-- and also, because they're not as-- they don't actually have the talent or intelligence. So they rely on systemic sexism and racism to uphold those pillars. And they inevitably hire and promote people who are like them.
So that's the tricky part because it's like, sometimes, women, I feel like you have to play the dude game in order to get a seat at the table, which is a really compromising. I even write about that in "Fresh Off the Boat." Some of the times the producer, when he was saying inappropriate things to me-- I feel like I played the dude game to make myself safe because I was the only woman he was--
So if he said something really inappropriate, I'd be like, oh my god, you're such a dick, you're so Hollywood, which was a type of, like-- because if I did anything serious, he'd be like, oh, calm down. It's just a joke, like, relax, which was really dismissive. So I don't know. What do you think? Asians-- how are we--
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, I think that, first of all, there needs to be many more people like us in charge of those decisions. That's the only thing that's going to change.
CONSTANCE WU: I mean, I do think-- and I've said this, already, several times. I do think that the Asian-Americans we do have in charge need to stop being obsessed with positive representation.
LORETTA J. ROSS: And whiteness, maybe.
CONSTANCE WU: Oh 100%-- that's another thing I've been trying to talk about, is how there's a lot in the Asian community that we don't talk about, where there's a lot of pandering to whiteness and associating whiteness with success. And we don't talk about that, which is a type of-- it's anti-Black racism, 100%. But we don't talk about that because we don't talk about the things that are uncomfortable in our community. But if we don't fucking talk about them, how do we fucking change them?
So it's like-- I mean, I remember my grandmother saying to me-- we were in a parking lot and there were some-- a Black family was walking to their car with their groceries. And she goes, lock your door-- Black people. And I was like, grandma. And I'm, like, eight when this happens. I'm like, Grandma, you can't say that.
And the thing is, she bought into it. She was like, but all the people you see on TV who are Black are this way. So I have the proof.
Understanding the structural and systemic racism and what the news media chooses to portray and how that affects you-- that's something that Asian-Americans need to actively take a part in dismantling. I was eight. I was probably too young to say something to my grandmother. I didn't understand this stuff yet.
But when have we ever seen a prominent Asian-American activist talk about the anti-Black racism within our own families? We'll march in a Black Lives Matter rally, but when do we talk about our own guilt in contributing to it? We don't, and we need to start. Sorry, I'm very passionate about it.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Well, I just want to bring into this conversation somebody who does. To introduce you to him, Scot Nakagawa is a fabulous Asian-American anti-racist activist. But that's because I come from that community, so I get to see.
CONSTANCE WU: And you know what's unfair is dumbasses like me probably get more of a microphone than he does. No, it's true. I'm an actress, and I get to talk about this stuff more, even though I'm not as studied on it. I don't know as much about it as he certainly does. So let's say his name again.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Scot Nakagawa.
CONSTANCE WU: Scot Nakagawa.
LORETTA J. ROSS: We're in a celebrity culture.
CONSTANCE WU: I know, but it's unfortunate.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Those of us who fight white supremacy, we don't become celebrities. We become martyrs.
CONSTANCE WU: Yeah, it's unfortunate.
LORETTA J. ROSS: If we get killed, maybe we got a chance, but--
CONSTANCE WU: Oh, no.
LORETTA J. ROSS: [CHUCKLING] Sorry it sounds so cynical, but--
CONSTANCE WU: Cynicism comes from somewhere. It comes from some truth. Anyway.
LORETTA J. ROSS: All right.
CONSTANCE WU: Let's move on to something happy.
LORETTA J. ROSS: OK--
CONSTANCE WU: We're not.
LORETTA J. ROSS: This is our last question.
CONSTANCE WU: Oh damn, I was having fun.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Yeah, well I'm told that we've got to wrap it up. Now that you have succeeded in not only conquering the demon who molested you-- the demons-- but that inner demon that kept you from speaking your truth, what would you offer to people about owning yourself and owning your truth? And what has it done for you to do so?
CONSTANCE WU: What would I offer to people? Gosh, I mean, I think-- I mean, I don't know. I always get in my head when people ask me about, like, what advice you would give because I'm like, I don't know. Everybody has their own path.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Put another way-- what did telling the truth do for you?
CONSTANCE WU: It sets you free.
LORETTA J. ROSS: It sets you free.
CONSTANCE WU: Because your shoulders go from here to here. So that's one thing I can say. Being honest and telling the truth is always the right thing to do.
LORETTA J. ROSS: All right, well, thank you. Thank you very much.
CONSTANCE WU: Thank you so much. Scot Nakagawa. Scot Nakagawa.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Yes.
CONSTANCE WU: Scot Nakagawa-- let's give him some airtime. Truly, we need to talk about that.
LORETTA J. ROSS: Thank you.
CONSTANCE WU: Thanks, everybody.
LORETTA J. ROSS: All right.