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10 Directors to Watch: Lulu Wang Shows Another Side of Awkwafina in ‘The Farewell’

A Chinese-American family decides to withhold a terminal diagnosis from its elderly matriarch in Wang's Sundance-bound sophomore feature.

Lulu Wang 10 Directors to Watch
Antje Taiga

Born in China, Lulu Wang moved to Miami when she was 6 — a dramatic shift not only in terms of geography, but culturally as well. This “divide,” says Wang, is a theme that plays out on multiple levels in the director’s Sundance-bound sophomore feature, “The Farewell,” a dry, comedic drama in which a Chinese family decides to not inform its elderly matriarch that she has Stage V cancer.

“I always felt the divide in my relationship to my family versus my relationship to my classmates and to my colleagues and to the world that I inhabit. That’s just the nature of being an immigrant and straddling two cultures,” says Wang, who based the film, starring Awkwafina, on her own grandmother’s illness, a story the helmer first shared with audiences on an episode of “This American Life.”

“This particular story resonated with me because of that,” continues Wang, whose debut feature, “Posthumous,” was released in 2014. “The main character has to go back to China and there are all these different layers of China. There’s Chinese and American generational culture, and there are different degrees of American culture. There’s the Chinese grandmother who grew up with the Communist Army, the uncle who moved from China to Japan — so it’s still Asian culture, but with certain differences. In [‘The Farewell’], I really wanted to explore the nuances of those gaps between these different family members. One thing that unites them is the love of the grandmother.”

For her next project, Wang, is working on a very different kind of film.

“It’s very grounded science fiction, it’s very rooted in character,” she explains. “Those are the types of projects I’m drawn to. I like mixing genres, I like to explore ideas, conceits and projects that are tonally interesting that I can bring a unique perspective to. I like things that have humor. Where I see myself in the next five to 10 years is just continuing to work on projects that are always challenging me visually and in terms of the tone.”

Influences: Ruben Ostlund, Mike Leigh
Agency: United Talent Agency
Management: Circle of Confusion
Legal:  Morris Yorn Barnes Levine Krintzman Rubenstein Kohner & Gellman