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Awkwafina criticized after Image Award nomination

Actress and comedian Awkwafina has come under fire after being nominated for a NAACP Image Award for her voice acting work.

According to the NAACP Image Awards’s website, Awkwafina, the stage name of Nora Lum, was nominated under the “Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance—Motion Picture” category for her role as Sisu in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. Other nominees include Andre Braugher, who voiced Al Granger in the Dreamworks film Spirit Untamed; Bryan Tyree Henry, who played Dancarino in Vivo; and Letitia Wright and Eric Andre, who both starred in Sing 2.

As the Atlanta Black Star reports, the Image Awards generally honors Black creatives in Hollywood, reflecting the NAACP’s stated goal to “make sure Black voices are heard, demands are met, and Black excellence is amplified.” Though the majority of nominees are Black, however, the organization also spotlights people of color in general; as AsAmNews reported, Asian creatives have been nominated in the past.

The nomination is particularly controversial because Lum has received past criticism on her use of a “blaccent,” or Black accent, during her performances. For instance, Twitter user Muqing M. Zhang described Awkwafina’s role as Goh Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians as a “mistral [sic]-esque performance as the ‘sassy Black sidekick’ caricature,” while a Femestella article points at her use of a “blaccent” as Constance in Ocean’s Eight as an example of her “reliance on Black stereotpes.”

As AsAmNews reported in 2021, Lum further courted controversy after a VICE interview in which she claimed she “refuse[s] to do accents” or attend “auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people.” Responses pointed at her hypocrisy in her statement due to her frequent use of a “blaccent,” as well as the inaccuracy of applying the term “minstrel” to a non-Black context.

According to Hot New Hip Hop, Awkwafina responded to her nomination, saying “Extremely honored to be nominated at the @naacp image awards, alongside so many people I love, appreciate and respect. Thank you @naacp for all that you do and have done.”

However, a tweet from On the Red Carpet that congratulated Lum was met with disdain from users, with many referencing her blaccent and minstrelsy controversy.

“Not Awkwafina with the blaccent getting an award from the NAACP lmaooooooo,” wrote @SoloDoLeauxA. Meanwhile, user @MJFINESSELOVER tweeted: “Out of all of the awards, I would think the NAACP Image Awards would be the last one to nominate someone like Awkwafina, who thinks it is ok to make a minstrel out of Black people for a living. Yikes.”

Multiple other users posted videos of her response to her “blaccent” controversy during the Shang-Chi press tour, which was criticized as an insufficient response.

Others, however, called for meaningful apology and change from Lum. Off Colour, which describes itself as “a non profit platform talking about Media, Culture, and Politics through the lens of race,” wrote: “But have we seen any action on the harm caused by her minstrelsy? A career built on the appropriation & bastardization of AAVE and cosplaying stereotypes of Blackness. Beyond the meekest acknowledgment, what apology has been issued? What amendments have been made?”

In a follow up tweet, the organization wrote: “until Nora accepts culpability, this isn’t meaningful.”

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