Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, a semi-autobiographical chronicle of award-winning actress Nora Lum derails from the Hollywood Machine’s platitudinal assembly line of content. It was named Comedy Central’s highest-rated new series in three years, proving diverse creatives are worth investing in.
As the industry struggles to integrate meaningful inclusion, Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens is setting an example. The show created by Asian American women Nora Lum and Teresa Hsiao includes API creatives; writers Kyle Lau, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, composer Joe Wong, and editor Jordan Kim. Hiring underrepresented artists in front of and behind the camera is integral to showrunner Karey Dornetto, “You make sure that you are actually getting diverse applicants, that you’re asking for them. It starts at the top.”
Only 1 in 10 show creators in digital scripted tv are people of color. “It’s been really great to have such wonderful partners at Comedy Central who believe in us, and actually gave us the reins to make a show. It is super rare to do something like this. We’re really lucky,” says showrunner Teresa Hsiao. People of color and women also struggle to land directing jobs in television, resulting in severe underrepresentation. The show has created opportunities for female directors and directors of color. Season 2 presented cast member B.D. Wong the opportunity to direct television for the first time. “He had directed on Broadway, but this was his t.v. debut. It was great to see how he works. I thought he did a great job. It was a really challenging episode that we gave him. It’s one of the episodes we’re proudest of in the season,” says Teresa.
The series features a predominantly Asian cast, a rarity on cable tv- only 3.1% of cable scripted shows feature an Asian lead. The show continues to support other Asian actors with guest stars this season including, Margaret Cho, Ross Butler, and Alan S. Kim. Season 2, Episode 4: “Edmunds Back,” centers on Edmund’s (Bowen Yang) acting career. The highlight of the episode is Nora and Edmund struggling to film a self-tape audition. “I have never actually booked something off a self-tape,” Bowen says but does share some experienced advice for the actors out there, “clear everything off the wall behind you. There is also this trick where you tape the sides to the opposite wall. I also use this app called Cold Read, it’s a great technology. ” Edmund also decides to use a stage name in the episode, a decision fellow B.D. Wong made early in his career, “I used to use my given name which is, Brad. But then I played a gender fluid character in a play, and the director asked me to take the gender out of my name for the program. My dad went by B.D. My brothers and I all have the same initials, so I decided to just go by B.D.”
In the recent study “I Am Not a Fetish or Model Minority: Redefining What it Means to Be API in the Entertainment Industry,” by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Gold House, and CAPE-because of the scarcity of authentic representation of API’s on-screen, Asian characters were twice as likely to be laughed at (43.4%) rather than laughed with (23.5%). Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens is changing this paradigm by placing creative control of API representation in the hands of API artists.
Watch Season 2 of Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens premiering on Comedy Central, August 18.
Images courtesy of Comedy Central