Cover Actor Daniel Wu at an anti-Asian-hate protest (Photo: Boston Globe/Getty Images)

Hong Kong actor Daniel Wu wants people to see Asian faces like his on screen and realise that they're American too.

As part of the reporting for Tatler’s August cover story, we speak to Hong Kong actor Daniel Wu who tells us why he is determined to forge a path in Hollywood even if he isn’t a victim.

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.

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The actor believes sparking public conversations is one of the most effective ways to bring change. He cites the example of the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015, where the Black community tweeted the hashtag to protest the nomination of only white actors for all the acting awards. He believes that community effort “spurred Hollywood to really look at themselves clearly, and go, ‘Right, we can’t just be making white stories of all white people, because this country is not just that.’ So there was an effort by Hollywood to be much more inclusive.”

The actor also believes the #StopAsianHate movement can serve as another wake-up call for the movie industry. “Asians are highly underrepresented in American films. I left the US a year or two after Joy Luck Club [the film was released in 1993], and then I went to Hong Kong and made 65 movies. I came back to the US and two years later, Crazy Rich Asians was made. But in the middle, there was no Asian American film in America. And that’s a sad 20 years,” he says. This lack of output strongly impacts people’s awareness of the community. Wu mentions a survey of white Americans which asked them to name a notable Asian American. “The first one [people name] is Bruce Lee, and then Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan wasn’t even American. They couldn’t name anybody else,” he says. “Not only are we underrepresented in entertainment; we’re also underrepresented in sports, culture and politics. It’s important that we get more representation back in those fields.”

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Wu is determined to stay in America to make films despite having fewer opportunities than he would have in Hong Kong, where his colleagues say he “could be the king”. “I haven’t given up on Hong Kong, I still will make Hong Kong films,” he says. “But I think it’s very important for me to forge my way in Hollywood—not for me, but for the next generation. I want people to see faces like mine on screen and realise that we’re American too.”

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