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The Constance Wu Controversy is Misogynistic

The notion that an actress should be grateful to have work rather than feel disappointed at having a more challenging project deferred is misogynistic.

ABC has responded to the controversy sparked by Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu after she tweeted her apparent dismay about the show's renewal.

The network's President, Karey Burke, said during a press conference: "No, there's been no talk of recasting Constance. We love what she does on the show and we love the show," Burke told reporters. "I did actually know that Constance had another opportunity that had Fresh Off the Boat not gone forward, she would've pursued."

She continued: "But we never really considered not bringing back Fresh Off the Boat." She said. "The show is just too strong for us and we love it."

"So I'm going to choose to believe Constance's most recent communication about the show that she is happy to return," Burke added. "The cast and crew is happy to have her back and we're thrilled to keep her on the show."

Last week, Constance Wu took to Twitter to express her anger after hearing the news of Fresh Off the Boat's renewal.

"So upset right now that I'm literally crying," wrote Wu. "Ugh. F—." Within the hour, she posted a second tweet: "F—ing hell."

One Twitter user wrote "Congrats on your renewal! Great news :)," to which the Crazy Rich Asians actress responded: "No it's not." (Her reply has since been deleted.)

She went on to respond to those who criticized her for her tweets: "That was not a rampage, it was just how I normally talk. I say f— a lot. I love the word," she wrote. "Y'all are making a lot of assumptions about what I was saying. And no, it's not what it's about. No it's not..what this is all about. Stop assuming."

Once her tweets started to spur national controversy and confusion, Wu backpedaled with a tweet on Friday, May 10th: "Todays tweets were on the heels of rough day&were ill-timed w/the news of the show. Plz know, Im so grateful for FOTB renewal. I love the cast&crew. Im proud to be a part of it. For all the fans support, thank u & for all who support my casual use of the word fuck-thank u too."

The next day, Wu released a lengthy apology note. "I love FOTB. I was temporarily upset yesterday not bc I hate the show but bc its renewal meant I had to give up another project that I was really passionate about. So my dismayed social media replies were more about that other project and not about FOTB," she said in a note posted on Twitter.

Many took issue with Wu's invocation of the tagline of the women's movement in the final sentence of the statement: "It's meaningful when you make the choice to believe women."

Some saw this as a conflation of the weighty #MeToo vernacular with the less gendered drama surrounding the show's renewal.

But the media's reaction to Wu's tweets is an issue of gender. The prevailing language of critics––calling Wu " ungrateful" or "arrogant"–– did seem charged in a similar way that language can be weaponized against female actresses and, in particular, women of color. This notion that an actress should be grateful to have work rather than feel disappointed at the deferral of a more challenging project is couched in misogyny.

Critics condescendingly referred to her tweets as a rampage, a tantrum, or a rant. It's hard not to question whether this kind of language would have been used if these tweets were sent by a man, who more often get applauded for ambition in similar situations. We say that we want women to feel validated in expressing their feelings and feel safe in voicing their contentions, but then accuse an actress of "raging" when she does just that.

Could Wu have vocalized her reaction to the show's renewal in a less negative way? Sure. But is the public outrage over the tweets warranted? Probably not.

It's a precarious time to be an actor in Hollywood––with many struggling to get work after their comedies are canceled or major networks competing with streaming platforms–– which makes it understandable that some people feel Wu should be happy to have another season on FOTB. However, that doesn't mean that we should encourage actresses to settle simply to maintain the optics of being "grateful."

Another point of contention for many is that FOTB is important for widening Asian American representation in television, so Wu ought to stay committed to that cause. Wu, who starred in Crazy Rich Asians, has been vocal about the importance of representation. But contrary to popular belief, Wu's vocalization of her disappointment does not equate to throwing the rest of the FOTB cast under the bus; It's possible to do your part and support the cause of representation while acknowledging that other projects may be more stimulating for an artistic career.

It's a common trend for working actors and actresses to grow out of projects in the pursuit of more artistically fulfilling endeavors. Normally, this kind of opaque ambition would be lauded for its drive. But in Wu's case, critics were quick to dismiss her for expressing her anger in a public setting or doing it the wrong way. Some argue that Wu should not have shared her anger on social media but there are glaring hypocrisies in this logic. Artists and celebrities are pushed and even praised for oversharing online in an effort to appear "relatable" or "authentic," but then fall subject to condemnation for publicizing their feelings. Do audiences really want artists to be fully transparent and "real," or do they only want that when it's conveniently positive and uplifting?

It's unfortunate to see a culture that has supposedly been advocating for the validation of women's feelings to turn on an actress for expressing her ambition and genuine disappointment. In Wu's case, the message being received is that women are allowed to express themselves and their frustrations, but just not like that. The recent backlash to Wu's tweets might not explicitly have to do with the #MeToo movement, but it's worth considering the hypocrisy of the way the public reacts (or in this case, criticizes) a woman's expression of frustration.

Sara is a music and culture writer.

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