4.5 star, adult, nonfiction

Review: Making a Scene by Constance Wu

A powerful and poignant new book by Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu about family, romance, sex, shame, trauma, and how she found her voice on the stage. 

Growing up in the friendly suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, Constance Wu was often scolded for having big feelings or strong reactions. “Good girls don’t make scenes,” people warned her. And while she spent most of her childhood suppressing her bold, emotional nature, she found an early outlet in local community theater—it was the one place where big feelings were okay—were good, even. Acting became her refuge, her touchstone, and eventually her vocation. At eighteen she moved to New York, where she’d spend the next ten years of her life auditioning, waiting tables, and struggling to make rent before her two big breaks: the TV sitcom Fresh Off the Boat and the hit film Crazy Rich Asians.

Through raw and relatable essays, Constance shares private memories of childhood, young love and heartbreak, sexual assault and harassment, and how she “made it” in Hollywood. Her stories offer a behind-the-scenes look at being Asian American in the entertainment industry and the continuing evolution of her identity and influence in the public eye. Making a Scene is an intimate portrait of pressures and pleasures of existing in today’s world.

Overall Recommendation

A poignant collection of essays about different moments and time periods in Constance’s life, I thoroughly enjoyed the personal stories and lessons she drew from all these experiences she’s documented. Looking at both her childhood and the people/places that have shaped her into the woman she is, this isn’t just a book about being Asian in Hollywood but a well rounded story of the heart of Constance Wu and that makes it ever more so worth reading.

CW: sexual harassment, rape, suicide

But then she spoke to me and I finally listened – really listened – to her. I stopped thinking of her as a girl making a scene, and started thinking about the scenes that made the girl.

And Making a Scene is truly living up to this quote taken from the preface. What makes up a person but the different moments (or “scenes”) in one’s life?

Each chapter is a separate essay about a moment or person or group of people in Constance’s life that have impacted her in some way. They don’t have to necessarily be read in order, but it’s ordered that way so we get some context for later essay chapters. Beware that this book is NOT about being an Asian American actress in Hollywood. I mean, yes, it covers some of it, including moments from Fresh off the Boat or mentions of Crazy Rich Asians, but those are just some things that make up Constance, not all of it.

Personally, I loved reading about her childhood growing up in Virginia, her high school job and the lessons that brought, the neighbours and teachers who impacted her in some way. It’s personal and vulnerable. She didn’t have to include all of this, but she does and with just the appropriate amount of detail to really bring us into the memories and moments with her.

If one is to ask how any of this relates to being a Hollywood actress, there were still chapters on the struggle with auditions and how pigeonholed it got sometimes when you look a certain way. I thought it definitely covered themes on racism, sexual harassment and of course, her bullying that almost led to suicide. Asian-specific experiences in Hollywood were also alluded to, and I appreciate her take on stereotypical Asian roles.

Stereotypes are not harmful for their mere existence; they’re harmful for their reduction of a person or group. Stereotyping reduces a person to his most obvious attributes, and then exploits that reduction.

I think I agree as an Asian Canadian myself in the diaspora about Asian stereotypes in media. I don’t think they’re inherently bad because of course, people like my parents and grandparents have accents and do speak/act with such mannerisms that are typically portrayed in media. I wouldn’t want to erase the reality of such individuals, but it’s the sole reduction of individuals to their accents or mannerisms that is truly harmful.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend reading this book, but come into it knowing it’s not just about how Constance got her big Hollywood breaks or what her experiences are as an Asian actress. Like we don’t want to reduce individuals to one sole aspect, why reduce Constance to just an Asian actress? There’s more to her than just that, and no one actress should have to bear the burden of representing all of us Asians. That’s too much for anyone to carry.

Whether you like Constance Wu or not, her book was fascinating to understand where she comes from and how it shaped her into the woman she is. She doesn’t hold back on areas she didn’t handle well, but it makes me as the reader want to give her some grace for all that she has gone through. At the end of the day, I may think a celebrity is far-out of my experiences but we are all human and we share the same kinds of emotions, the joys and the lows, as everyone else.


2 thoughts on “Review: Making a Scene by Constance Wu”

  1. Loved reading your detailed review on this book Andge! I personally find it tough to get into non-fiction or memoirs but Constance’s book looks so multi-layered (not only about Hollywood but about the experiences that shaped her), I’ll have to look into this one more. Great getting to read your thoughts! ❤


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