Actress and rapper Awkwafina won Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy at the 2020 Golden Globes for her deeply moving performance in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell.  She portrayed Billi, an aspiring Chinese-American writer who visits her beloved and gravely ill grandmother in China. 

“I’d like to dedicate this to my dad, Wally. I told you I’d get a job, Dad,” Awkwafina said with her relatable, humorous style and raspy voice while accepting the statue.  “And to my grandma—my best friend, the woman who raised me. And to my mother, Tia, who I always hoped was watching somewhere above, and I hope she’s watching now.” 

Awkwafina was born Nora Lum on Long Island to a Chinese-American father and a South Korean immigrant mother, Tia, who died when Nora was just four years old. Thus, she was raised by her father as well as his parents. 

“It’s deeply personal. I never thought that I would find a script such as this—one of a perspective of a girl who not only makes this kind of cross-cultural journey but also has this really deep connection with her grandma,” Awkwafina shared in an interview with the Los Angeles Times

In turn, The Farewell director Lulu Wang revealed “When Awkwafina sent in an audition tape, you could just feel the connection to the material. It was so raw; it was not like any other audition tape that I saw. And I just knew immediately that her personal connection with her grandmother and all that would bring so many layers to the story.” 

In winning the award, Awkwafina became the first woman of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in any lead-actress film category. Backstage at the event, she said, “I actually just heard that fact and it was pretty mind-blowing. I think it feels incredible, but I think there’s also this other feeling that you want there to be more. I hope this is just the beginning.”

Since she was a young girl, Awkwafina wanted to be on TV. She had an unfiltered way of speaking and started rapping at the age of 13. Years later, she adopted the stage name Aquafina; she said this change awakened “definitely a person I repressed,” distinct from the“quiet and more passive” personality that she adhered to during her college years. She later altered the spelling of her name to Awkwafina in hopes of not being sued by the bottled-water company of the same name.

But while developing into a rapper, comedian, and actress over the years, Aquafina’s jokes were often so vulgar, she says of her style, “You either get it or you don’t … I’ve always been completely unfiltered since I was a little kid.” By the time she reached 24, she gained popularity through the release of her viral rap video “My Vag.” The video’s controversial subject matter got her fired from her office job at the time, however, it became an unlikely feminist anthem when it was released in 2012. It also served as the reason she was invited to be cast in her first movie, Neighbors 2

Next, Aquafina was in disbelief upon hearing the news she was cast in a supporting role in the comedy film Ocean’s 8. “Like I didn’t believe any of it was true until I got the paperwork, started, and met all the ladies,” the star recalls. Moving forward, she co-starred in the satirical rom-com Crazy Rich Asians playing the hilarious Goh Peik Lin, a Singaporean college friend of Constance Wu’s character Rachel Chu.

Awkwafina has also released two albums, Yellow Ranger in 2014 and In Fina We Trust in 2018. She’s expected to play a character in the upcoming Marvel superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Congratulations, Awkwafina!