One of the things I love most about being a film critic is getting to know the work of standout actors, actresses and directors before they really “make it big.” Awkwafina is one of those people for me. Now, I realize she’s not exactly a household name just yet. In fact, I’m sure there are lots of people who’d hear the name “Awkwafina” and be like, “Umm why are you talking about a water bottle.” (As in, Aquafina.)

But I’m confident that Awkwafina (given name: Nora Lum) is on her way to superstardom, and since she’s turning 33 today, I thought it was the perfect time to take a walk down memory lane and look at her career so far, as well as talk about the amazing projects in her future.

As with many actors and actresses, Awkwafina first made a name for herself doing something other than acting. After adopting her stage name at 16 and gaining a following on YouTube for her hilarious raps, she eventually went viral with a few videos shortly after she graduated from college in 2011. Those videos — as well as a spot on MTV’s Girl Code — led to everything really blowing up for Awkwafina in 2016. That’s the year she collaborated on a song with the popular comedienne Margaret Cho, was featured in the documentary Bad Rap (which focused on Korean American hip-hop artists), and landed her first (small) acting role in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.

Her cutting-edge buzz grew dramatically after that point, and in 2018 she enjoyed significant supporting roles in both the star-studded Ocean’s 8, as well as the smash hit Crazy Rich Asians.

But it was in 2019 that I personally started realizing Awkwafina’s huge potential as a multi-talented entertainer. I was so moved by her performance in The Farewell, about a family coming to terms with their grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, that I tried to convince literally everyone I knew to see it. I wasn’t the only one who was impressed — the role earned Awkwafina her major acting accolade in the form of a Golden Globe award for Best Actress —Musical or Comedy.

After that point Awkwafina’s been very, very, busy, with roles or voicework in Jumanji: The Next Level, The Angry Birds Movie 2, and most recently Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

But her future looks even more exciting, with a major role in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (slated for related over Labor Day weekend) and The Little Mermaid live-action remake, for which she’ll provide the voice of mermaid Ariel’s avian friend Scuttle.

And while I’m crazy-excited for those two movies, I’m actually most looking forward to Awkwafina’s role in the mysterious upcoming drama Swan Song, which is about a dying man who’s given the option to replace himself with his own clone. Awkwafina will be joining the spectacular Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Glenn Close in Swan Song’s cast.

We certainly hope that after such a phenomenal past five years, Awkwafina takes a little time for herself to celebrate her 33rd birthday today. If you’d like to watch one of her movies to honor this special occasion, you can find them here on redbox.com.

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