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Awkwafina to star in, produce film on surprising role Chinatown played in punk rock scene

Chinatown restaurants became crucial venues for early punk acts in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Image: Image: Longchamp Spring/Summer 2019 Runway Show
Awkwafina at a runway show in New York last year. Jared Siskin / Getty Images for Longchamp file

Awkwafina is set to star and produce a film about the role Chinatown restaurants played in the rise of the California punk rock scene.

The “Crazy Rich Asians” actress will be collaborating with Topic Studios for the project, which will be based on an article published in June in Topic magazine, “How Chinese Food Fueled the Rise of California Punk,” the company announced Tuesday.

The article delved into how Chinatown restaurants on the West Coast became crucial venues for early punk acts in the late 1970s and early ’80s during the recession. The establishments would book bands to perform in their banquet spaces in an attempt to draw in customers.

Madeline Leung Coleman, a senior editor at The Nation who wrote the piece, told NBC News that the film could help fight the erasure Asian Americans have historically experienced in mainstream media.

“Throughout the 20th century, Asian American stories were almost never told in popular media — with some important exceptions, of course,” she said. “I think narratives that revolve around the lives of Asian Americans in the 1970s could help to reclaim space for us in our common understanding of American history.”

Coleman explained that she felt compelled to examine the Chinese restaurateurs involved in the punk scene because “they reminded me so much of my own family,” with her own grandparents also being Chinese small-business owners.

“Asian Americans are often portrayed as passive or monolithic," she said. "I think this story — and the risks the restaurant owners took — challenges that idea."

Coleman said she thought Awkwafina is a great fit for the project.

“When I heard that Awkwafina was the one who had approached Topic, it all made sense: she's among a group of actors and filmmakers of color who are forcing a shift in which stories Hollywood deems worthy of telling,” Coleman said. “People are hungry for it!”