Making a Scene

A review of Constance Wu’s Memoir

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Constance Wu, a Chinese American actress, has been making scenes all her life. From being a recipient of various accolades to starring in the ABC television comedy Fresh off the Boat which propelled her to stardom and dominating the box office with Crazy Rich Asians are just a few of her accomplishments.  

The 40-year-old actress has been creating unfavorable scenes too. For instance, when Fresh off the Boat announced that it will be renewed for a sixth season in 2019, Constance posted several vehement tweets against the program, which she addresses in the book. Her behavior gave her a reputation as a diva and now almost three years later after she was majorly canceled, she is ready to explain. 

The memoir was published two weeks ago on October 4th, so this review is not fresh off the press but fairly close.

When it comes to reading creative nonfiction, I’ve read books that were written in essay format or a linear fashion. But this memoir seems to be written as a screenplay. The book is not in chronological order; rather it’s a series of anecdotes about Constance’s life. From growing up in Richmond, Virginia to navigating the challenges of New York and Hollywood. 

There are two overarching themes in the book. The first one is how art can be very healing. For Constance, art was always theater where you play and make scenes. The second theme is what it means when someone makes a scene. Constance explains in her memoir that growing up she felt like it was unladylike to make scenes. 

As I am recounting the story to write this review, I realized that Constance talks awfully a lot about how much she loves her pet rabbit. However, I am going to skip it entirely but if you are interested, you can read the book. Constance shares some vulnerable moments in her life like going through sexual harassment. One of the producers on the show FOTB raped her. What took me by surprise was that as she was recounting her experience, it seemed as though she had compassion for the guy which many people do not do.

On “The Daily Show” Wu says, “when I thought about how he’s an Asian-American man and how Asian-American men have traditionally felt very emasculated in this country and what that does to a person and why and how they might exercise their feelings of powerlessness and exercise it on the women in their own community– because he was always respectful to white and Black women all around me. It was just to Asian women who weren’t in positions of power that he sort of exercised his power. And I considered that, and I considered the pressure he was under, not to excuse him, but just to understand people better.” When people on Twitter were calling her ungrateful and a diva for expressing her disappointment with the renewal of her show, little did they know that behind the scenes, Constance did not want to go back on set to a show where she was raped. 

One of the most unexpected moments in Making a Scene was Wu’s apology for her incidence of sexual harassment. She felt like she was creating an environment that was harassing not on the same level in any way as what happened to her. But I was quite intrigued by reading what she had to say.  “I am guilty of sexual harassment. Of being the harasser,” she says. “I had a problem: I couldn’t stop writing the word penis.” 

It turns out that one day Wu got irritated that the word boob was a punch line to a joke, so then she decided that penises should as well. She frequently scribbled the word penis on set.  “Every time you saw my character writing on a legal pad, signing a check, or making a grocery list, I was writing the word penis over and over again.” Then someone on the crew complained about it being “inappropriate,” Wu had to be asked to stop by one of the producers. Now she feels very sorry for making someone uncomfortable. “I apologize and I recognize the problem,” she says. “This is an earnest apology. From the bottom of my boob, I am sorry.”

Making a Scene is a powerful and poignant memoir about family, shame, trauma, love, and how she found her voice on the stage. Wu is a hilarious writer and an honest one too. From childhood stories to new adult lessons, Wu generously shares her experience with emotional detail while still being truly authentic. 

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