|Born||April 21, 1970|
San Jose, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Stanford University (BS, MS)|
|Known for||Saving Face|
The Half of It
Winner, Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, 2020 Tribeca Film Festival
In both of her films, the main characters are Chinese American. For the film Saving Face, a number of production companies offered to buy the script for the film, but Wu opted not to sell it in order to uphold an authentic portrayal of the Taiwanese-American community. Aside from Asian protagonists, her films also often explore the lives of intellectual, LGBT female characters. Saving Face and Wu's impact on the industry have paved way for greater Asian representation in the film industry today. Her contributions in film have inspired Asian-American actresses such as Awkwafina and Lana Condor.
Alice Wu was born in San Jose, California to parents who were immigrants from Taiwan. Her family eventually moved to Los Altos, California, where she graduated from Los Altos High School in 1986. She enrolled in Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of 16. 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.
Saving Face (2005)
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. In 2001, the script for Saving Face won the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment screenwriting award.
Saving Face was released in 2005. 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." 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".
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. 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. 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.
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."
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 working on her first feature film, Wu subsequently worked on a film based on Rachel DeWoskin's memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China. 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.
After the pitch, Wu left the industry for a bit to take care of her mother who was ill. She lived off of her savings and income from Microsoft and Saving Face for a while 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.
The Half of It (2020)
After her mom's conditions improved, Wu started writing again. However, this time around she kept encountering writers block. To get over this hurdle, Wu wrote a $1,000 check out to the National Rifle Association, 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." This draft evolved into The Half of It, a feature film written, directed, and produced by Wu.
The feature script appeared on The Black List (survey) in 2018. 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. The film stars Charmed actress Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, and Alexxis Lemire in the leading roles. It is Wu's first major film since the release of Saving Face in 2005. The film was announced in April 2020 as the winner of the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.
Awards and honors
In March 2005, Wu's film Saving Face was the opening film at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. Later that year, she received the Visionary award at the San Diego Asian Film Festival to celebrate her directorial debut for Saving Face, and was nominated in the breakthrough director category at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, although she did not win. In 2006, Saving Face received a nomination at the GLAAD Media Awards, and it won the Viewer's Choice Award at the Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan's equivalent of The Academy Awards. In 2019, the film was named one of the 20 Best Asian American Films of the Last 20 Years by The Los Angeles Times.
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”.
Wu lives a private life.
|2005||Saving Face||Writer and director|
|2020||The Half of It||Writer, director, producer|
|2020||Over the Moon||Writer|
- List of female film and television directors
- List of lesbian filmmakers
- List of LGBT-related films directed by women
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