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Awkwafina interview: ‘Growing up, Kung Fu Panda was a rare movie that got Chinese culture right’

In an exclusive interview, Awkwafina discusses Kung Fu Panda 4, working with Jack Black, and how the franchise benefits Asian Americans like her.  

Awkwafina isn’t new to animated movies. She is also a rapper and has voiced characters in a variety of genres, including The Angry Birds Movie, The SpongeBob Movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Little Mermaid, and Migration. However, playing Zhen, a corsac fox, opposite Jack Black’s Po in Kung Fu Panda 4 has a deeper, more personal meaning for the actor. Also read: Jack Black’s Kung Fu Panda 4 interview. ‘We’re definitely going to do 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, but who knows about 10?’  

Asian American upbringing  

Awkwafina was born in New York to a Chinese-American father and a Korean-American mother, and she grew up far from her ancestral home in Asia. Awkwafina, who was four years old when her mother died, was raised by her paternal grandparents instead. Her grandma, with whom she was especially close, didn’t speak English. So the actor learned Mandarin to converse with her. Also, her great-grandfather immigrated to the United States in the 1940s and built Lum’s, one of Queens’ earliest Chinese restaurants. Dumplings were as frequent and sacred in her household as they were to Mr. Ping in Kung Fu Panda

“Growing up as an Asian American and watching Kung Fu Panda…” At the time, I thought there weren’t many movies depicting older cultural practices like the ones I saw in my own family. The Valley of Peace is depicted as a community, with a fondness for dumplings, filial piety, a relationship with Po’s father, and visually appealing scenery. So it was great to see a film that honored ethnic customs in the proper light,” Awkwafina adds in an exclusive interview.  

Working with Jack Black.  

This isn’t Awkwafina’s first collaboration with Jack Black. They previously appeared on screen together in Jake Kasdan’s 2019 fantasy epic Jumanji: The Next Level. “It’s the third time, actually, since he spotted my YouTube video ten years ago and invited me to his festival, which was the largest I’d ever played. “It was really cool,” Awkwafina says.  

After breaking success on YouTube with her 2012 song My Vag, she was sacked from a publishing job due to the lyrics. But she was overjoyed when Jack DMed her after she was chosen for the lineup at Festival Supreme 2014, which he hosted. I freaked out! Jack has always made me feel welcome. He simply has that about him. “It’s a pleasure to work with him and be a part of a franchise that I’ve admired for so long,” Awkwafina says.  

In the fourth chapter of the animated action comedy franchise, Zhen appears as Po’s new partner-in-crime. Her Corsac fox is the Yin to Jack’s Yang. “Jack is obviously an excellent scene partner, and playing on his energy is a lot of fun. terrific writing, a terrific script, and a great director all contribute to the development of that camaraderie. I truly love being in the company of Jack. “I think that helps,” she concludes.  

Kung Fu Panda 4 will open in Indian theaters on March 15 in English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu.  

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