Alice Wu

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Alice Wu
Wu in 2005
Born (1970-04-21) April 21, 1970 (age 54)
Alma materStanford University (BS, MS)
Occupation(s)Filmmaker, screenwriter
Known forSaving Face
The Half of It
Winner, Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, 2020 Tribeca Film Festival
Nominated, Best Screenplay, 2020 Independent Spirit Award

Alice Wu (Chinese: ; born April 21, 1970)[1] is an American film director and screenwriter, known for her films Saving Face (2004) and The Half of It (2020).

Both of her films feature Chinese-American main characters and explore the lives of intellectual, lesbian characters. A number of production companies offered to buy the script for Saving Face, but Wu opted not to sell it in order to uphold an authentic portrayal of the Taiwanese-American community.[2] Saving Face and Wu's impact on the industry have paved the way for greater Asian representation in the film industry today. Her work has inspired Asian-American actresses such as Awkwafina and Lana Condor.[3]

Early life[edit]

Alice Wu was born in San Jose, California[1] to parents who were immigrants from Taiwan.[4] Her family eventually moved to Los Altos, California, where she graduated from Los Altos High School in 1986.[5] She enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of 16.[6] She later transferred to Stanford University, where she earned her B.S. in Computer Science in 1990 and her master's degree in Computer Science in 1992. Before becoming a filmmaker, Wu worked as a software engineer for Microsoft in Seattle.


While working at Microsoft, Wu began writing a novel. Deciding the story would work better as a film, she signed up for a 12-week screenwriting class at the University of Washington in which she penned the script for her first feature film. She then left the corporate world and eventually moved to New York City to pursue a filmmaking career full-time.[4]

Saving Face (2004)[edit]

Encouraged by her screenwriting teacher, she left Microsoft in the late 1990s to try to turn the script for her first feature film Saving Face into a film, giving herself a five-year window. Production had begun when she reached the fifth year.[4] In 2001, the script for Saving Face won the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment screenwriting award.

Saving Face was released in 2004. The film was inspired by her own experiences coming out as a lesbian in the Taiwanese American community. She has said that she would like the audience to come away from it "with this feeling that, no matter who they are, whether they are gay or straight, or whatever their cultural make-up is, that if there is something that they secretly wanted, whether it's this feeling that they could actually have that great love or whatever it is, that it's never too late to have that. I want them to leave the theater feeling a sense of hope and possibility."[7] Alice struggled with her sexual identity and when she came out as a lesbian she had a difference of opinions with her mother which led to a fall out between the two. In an interview with Jan Lisa Huttner, Wu noted that not all of her audience was female, Asian, or lesbian. She found it "highly unusual" that "you can take a group that seems so specific, and make them universally human".[8]

The film has been influential within both lesbian and Chinese communities. It heavily focuses on the challenges faced within the Chinese-American community, dealing with issues of the role of women and lesbian identity.[9] Wu also explores relationships between mothers and daughters in the Chinese-American community through her portrayal of the relationship between the film's main character and her mother.[10] Although she claims that the film's main character is not an autobiographical portrayal of her real life, it was partially a way to provide positive representation for her own mother.[11]

Saving Face has secured Wu as a role model for other Chinese-Americans in the film industry. Awkwafina had a Saving Face poster hanging up in her bedroom in Flushing, Queens. She describes the film as "the first film that spoke to her as an Asian-American."[3]

The film had its world premiere at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, and its U.S. premiere at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics released the film in May 2005.


After Saving Face, Wu subsequently worked on a film based on Rachel DeWoskin's memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China.[12] The movie, however, did not make it past pre-production.

In 2008, she sold a pitch to ABC called "Foobar" based on her experiences working as a woman in the tech world.[13]

After the pitch, Wu left the industry for a period to take care of her mother who was ill. She lived off of her savings and income from Microsoft and Saving Face and kept a low profile. However, most of her friends hadn't had a clue what she was doing, career-wise. When asked if they knew what she had been doing all these years between "Foobar" and The Half of It, her “Saving Face” friends had hardly any idea.[3]

The Half of It (2020)[edit]

After her mother's condition improved, Wu started writing again, but continually encountered writer's block. To get over this hurdle, Wu wrote a $1,000 check out to the National Rifle Association of America, an organization she despises, and gave it to her friend. She told her, "if this first draft is not written, you are sending that check in."[3] This draft evolved into The Half of It, a coming-of-age comedy-drama film written, directed, and produced by Wu.[3]

The feature script appeared on the Black List in 2018.[14] The film is a romantic comedy which follows a Chinese-American teenager as she helps a boy win over his crush, who she also has a romantic interest in. It is loosely based on her own teenage bond with an unexpected friend.[15] The film stars Charmed actress Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, and Alexxis Lemire in the leading roles.[16] The film was announced in April 2020 as the winner of the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.[17] It was released on Netflix on May 1, 2020 and received highly positive reviews.[18][19]

In 2022, Wu wrote and directed the commercial "The Note," for Oreo, in collaboration with PFLAG. "The Note" showcases one step in a young Chinese American man’s coming out journey and emphasizes the role family members can play as lifelong allies for their LGBTQ+ loved ones.

Awards and honors[edit]

In March 2005, Wu's film Saving Face was the opening film at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.[20] Later that year, she received the Visionary award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival to celebrate her directorial debut for Saving Face,[21] and was nominated in the breakthrough director category at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, although she did not win.[22] In 2006, Saving Face received a nomination at the GLAAD Media Awards,[23] and it won the Viewer's Choice Award at the Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan's equivalent of The Academy Awards.[3] In 2019, the film was named one of the 20 Best Asian American Films of the Last 20 Years by The Los Angeles Times.[24]

In April 2020, Wu's film The Half of It won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature (in the U.S. Narrative Competition category) at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.[25]

In June 2020, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride parade, Queerty named her among the fifty heroes “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people”.[26][27]

In 2021, Wu was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay for The Half of It.

Personal life[edit]

Wu is a lesbian, and finally came out to herself while taking a feminist studies class at Stanford. Wu came out to her mother during a conversation with her (in Mandarin Chinese) about the class.[28]

Wu lives a private life.[29]


Year Title Position
2004 Saving Face Writer and director
2020 The Half of It Writer, director, producer
2020 Over the Moon Writer

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pettis, Ruth M. (2006). "Wu, Alice" (PDF). Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  2. ^ Hill, Logan (May 26, 2005). "Debut Director: Alice Wu". New York Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ito, Robert (April 29, 2020). "Alice Wu's Lesbian Rom-Com Was Influential, but Her Follow-Up Wasn't Easy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020. Retrieved March 15, 2021.(subscription required)
  4. ^ a b c Leibowitz, Ed (May 29, 2005). "Kissing Vivian Shing". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 26, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2008.
  5. ^ Wang, Cathy. "Los Altos Alum Alice Wu's Film to Hit Netflix — but that's not even "The Half of It"". The Talon. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  6. ^ Masters, Kim (May 18, 2020). "Alice Wu's 'The Half of It'". The Business (Podcast). KCRW.
  7. ^ Warn, Sarah (May 26, 2005). "Interview with Alice Wu and Joan Chen of "Saving Face"". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on November 21, 2015. Retrieved August 31, 2017.
  8. ^ Huttner, Jan Lisa (May 28, 2005). "Jan Chats with Alice Wu & Joan Chen about their new film SAVING FACE". Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  9. ^ Wong, Alvin Ka Hin (June 15, 2012). "From the Transnational to the Sinophone: Lesbian Representations in Chinese-Language Films". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 16 (3): 307–32. doi:10.1080/10894160.2012.673930. PMID 22702380. S2CID 216115218.
  10. ^ Hengshan, Jin (2019). "The Meaning of Liberation: From The Joy Luck Club to Face and Saving Face". Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas. 17 (1): 65–80. doi:10.1353/pan.2019.0003.
  11. ^ Hill, Logan (May 26, 2005). "Debut Director: Alice Wu". New York Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  12. ^ Brian B. (December 16, 2005). "Paramount Taps Alice Wu for Foreign Babes in Beijing". MovieWeb. Archived from the original on October 13, 2018. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  13. ^ Adalian, Josef (September 20, 2007). "Alice Wu, Neil Moritz team on 'Foobar'". Variety. Archived from the original on October 13, 2018. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  14. ^ Vlessing, Etan (April 22, 2019). "Leah Lewis, Alexxis Lemire to Star in Alice Wu's 'The Half of It' Teen Romance for Netflix". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on April 22, 2019. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
  15. ^ Erbland, Kate (April 29, 2020). "Alice Wu Made a Fresh, Queer Love Story in 'Saving Face,' So Why Did a Follow-Up Take 16 Years?". IndieWire. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  16. ^ Evans, Greg (April 22, 2019). "Netflix Launches Production On 'The Half Of It', Alice Wu's Movie Follow-Up To 'Saving Face'". Deadline. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  17. ^ Moreau, Jordan (April 29, 2020). "'The Half of It,' Steve Zahn, Assol Abdullina Win Awards at 2020 Tribeca Film Festival". Variety. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  18. ^ "The Half of It (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  19. ^ "The Half of It (2020)". Metacritic. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  20. ^ Brooks, Brian (March 10, 2005). "Alice Wu's "Saving Face" Opens San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival Tonight". Indiewire. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  21. ^ Wagner, Holly J. (November 20–26, 2005). "'Saving Face' Explores Personal Identity". Home Media Retailing.
  22. ^ "Gotham Independent Film Awards". Gotham Independent Film Awards. Archived from the original on February 19, 2017. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  23. ^ Marcus, Lawrence (January 25, 2006). "GLAAD Hands Out Noms". Variety. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  24. ^ Hu, Brian (October 4, 2019). "The 20 best Asian American films of the last 20 years". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 4, 2019. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  25. ^ Welk, Brian (April 29, 2020). "Tribeca Film Festival Gives Jury Awards to 'The Half of It,' Steve Zahn Despite Cancellation". TheWrap. Retrieved November 23, 2023.
  26. ^ "Queerty Pride50 2020 Honorees". Queerty. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  27. ^ Reddish, David (June 15, 2020). "Meet the entertainment creators fighting the good fight this year". Queerty. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  28. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (June 6, 2005). "Alice Wu saved up her own doubts and struggles and turned them into the new comedy 'Saving Face'". Retrieved March 5, 2020.
  29. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (June 6, 2005). "Alice Wu saved up her own doubts and struggles and turned them into the new comedy 'Saving Face'". SFGATE. Retrieved April 14, 2023.

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