Editor's note: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This story also includes descriptions of rape and sexual assault.
In a new memoir, actor Constance Wu shows a side of herself the public hasn’t seen, one different from her groundbreaking roles in the romance drama “Crazy Rich Asians” or sitcom “Fresh Off The Boat.”
Her book “Making a Scene” comes out Tuesday and in it, Wu talks about being a target of sexual violence and extreme internet backlash that led to a suicide attempt. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, Wu often tried to act ladylike and not stand out.
“I was never shy, I was never quiet. I was always emotional,” she recalls. “And a lot of this book is about how I found an outlet in community theater.”
The book’s title stems from an essay Wu wrote about being raped and not fighting back because she didn’t want to make a scene. It’s one of several moments of sexual harassment that Wu writes about.
When she began writing the memoir in the midst of the 2016 election, she needed an outlet for her feelings. Originally, Wu thought her book would take on a political tone, but ended up realizing it didn’t work. Within the political essays, Wu began to notice her personal stories were the best part, like those about baking bread or falling in love and getting her heart broken. It was those moments that would transform the book over time.
“I'm very grateful for it because it was a healing in a way for me to look back on mistakes and events in my life with curiosity and empathy rather than my old patterns of judgment and shame,” Wu says, “which is a lot of what the internet does to public figures.”
Wu faced internet judgment of her own back in 2019 when “Fresh Off the Boat” was renewed for another season. Wu expressed her disappointment on Twitter but swiftly met backlash. Thinking back, Wu admits she’d acted recklessly and realized she sounded ungrateful.
On the surface, people online found it easy to frame Wu as an actor who “thinks she’s too big for her britches” or one who abandons those who gave her a career. Writing her book allowed her to arrive at the reason behind her uncharacteristic response, Wu says.
What people didn’t realize, Wu says, was the sexual harassment and abuse she suffered at the hands of an Asian-American producer on the show.
Initially, Wu kept quiet about the abuse and repressed it; she didn’t want to ruin the show’s reputation. But once she finally gained job security and didn’t have to fear the producer anymore, Wu thought the problem was handled. But that wasn’t the case.
“Trauma and feelings don't go away simply because you will them,” she says. “They're inevitably going to come out other ways.”
Although “Fresh Off the Boat” garnered acclaim throughout its six-season run, it also attracted some accusations of stereotyping. Wu disagrees. Stereotypes are harmful when they’re reductive, she says, but they do exist. By refusing to play these stereotypes, Wu says she worries it reinforces the idea that some of those attributes, like having an Asian accent, are inherently shameful. The Asian-American community, particularly in Hollywood, has been too focused on positive representation, she says.
Wu dedicated her book to her daughter and despite the traumatic moments in her life, she still wants her daughter to know about it.
“I could be somebody who has gone through sexual assault, who has had some messy tweets and still be worthy of life and of having your voice and having your story,” she says. “So as difficult as these topics are to broach, I particularly think it's important in the Asian-American community to finally give light to the wholeness of our experience and not just the positive aspects of it.”
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
This segment aired on October 4, 2022.