Actor Daniel Wu was stunned by what he saw trending on social media. “An [Asian] old lady was slapped in the face and they just lit her on fire,” he recalls. But he was not referring to scenes from a movie, but footage of a hate crime that took place in New York in July 2020. “That was the first time I’d seen something like that. It was not even a robbery. It’s one thing to say racial slurs, but another to get physical and violent.”
Similar crimes had been happening in and around San Francisco where the actor grew up, and where he lives when he’s not in Hong Kong. Wu acknowledges that he’s never experienced Asian hate himself, but in some ways that makes the issue even more pressing. “These people who are attacking the elderly, women and kids are all cowards. They’re not going for someone like me, who’s six-foot-one and 170 pounds [77kg] and can bring them trouble,” he says. “That’s what I find most appalling. That’s what made me stand up and say, I can’t take this anymore.”
An attack on a 91-year-old man in California in February had prompted Wu and fellow actor Daniel Dae Kim to offer a reward of US25,000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. Following the New York attack in July, Wu contributed an additional US$15,000 to a reward for information being offered by the community centre the female victim had frequented. “The intention was not necessarily to catch the person but to bring attention to this this issue,” Wu says, explaining that the many cases of racist attacks on Asians were not making the news. Once Asian American celebrities were involved, however, the media started to pay attention to the crimes, and people outside of the community started talking about them.