Photo credit: ABC
Did you catch the premiere of the first television show about an Asian American family since All American Girl was cancelled twenty years ago?
My kids had a school event last night, but we got home just in time to catch ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, a new sitcom based off Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same title (affiliate link). My Asian American community has been on pins and needles since ABC optioned the pilot last year. As excited as we all were to see a tv show that revolves around an Asian American family, we all secretly hoped that ABC wouldn’t f*ck it up.
Hollywood has not been kind to us Asians. Most Asian faces we see in movies and television are badly accented, stereotypical characters: triad gang members, innocent damsels in distress waiting to be saved by the white man, Viet Cong attacking American soldiers, and ancient white-haired guru who speaks the language of fortune cookies. While there are exceptions to these stereotypes, these characters are rarely the lead and must share their screen time with white characters: Lucy Liu’s Watson in Elementary; Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park in Hawaii Five-O; John Cho in the recently cancelled Selfie.
This Dr. Horrible commentary song nails it perfectly:
There’s been plenty of controversy over Eddie Huang’s involvement in the sitcom about his life. He’s been very outspoken about how his family is represented–heck, how Asian Americans will be represented to all of America. Fresh Off the Boat’s young Eddie loves hip-hop and wears breakaway pants–an image that blows most people’s impression of quiet, nerdy Asian Americans out of the water. Even reporters have a tough time absorbing that we’re American too, as evidence by a question posed to the producers during a press tour:
I wanted to ask the question: I love Asian culture. And I was just talking about chopsticks, and I just love all that. Will I get to see that, or will it be more Americanized? -via Deadline
Hopefully he was atypical–or maybe he’s the only one who wasn’t afraid to voice his perceptions about Asian culture.
So now you can see why we’ve all been holding our breaths for the last night’s premiere. Praying our mantra quietly, Don’t f*ck it up. Please be good. Please be funny.
And you know what? The show was funny. It was good. ABC did not f*ck it up.
Thank you Eddie Huang for pushing hard to fight the stereotypes and racism. Thank everyone involved in the show.
The show aired after the kids’ bedtime, but I let them watch part of it with me. Sadly, they’re too young/sheltered to catch some of the jokes. They thought it was funny. In fact, they were shocked that I actually watched a television show when it aired as opposed to catching the rebroadcast online. They knew the show was a big deal for me.
Once the credits rolled at the end of the pilot, my daughter asked me why I was watching Fresh Off the Boat. I explained its significance to our Asian American community. While she understood the importance, she wasn’t impressed.
That’s when I realized how lucky my kids are. They have an explosion of platforms for their video entertainment: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and of course, broadcast television. (We don’t have cable.) Twenty years ago, all my family had was broadcast tv and the limited selection of our video rental store, where the only movies starring Asians were foreign films. We watched our share of Taiwanese soaps, but they weren’t American.
Every time I spotted an Asian face on television, no matter how stereotypical or cringe-worthy, I watched the show. To see someone like me on the screen meant that my story mattered. To make sure Hollywood continued to put Asian faces on tv, my teenage self did my part and dutifully watched every show I could that had an Asian character. Which wasn’t very many.
While we have a long way to go when it comes to onscreen minority representation that matches our country’s racial make-up, there’s so many Asian faces on small screen that I can’t watch them all. That’s a good problem. Now I can choose my shows based on its interest and quality than just watching to tell Hollywood I care about Asian American actors. What a crazy concept!
Another reason my kids don’t totally relate to Fresh Off the Boat is because, unlike me, they don’t see their family in it. On the surface at least. Our family is not homogenous like Huang’s. They see no conflict between my husband’s southern black family and my Vietnamese American family. They have friends whose family are multicultural. Diversity surrounds them and we regularly discuss ours and others’ family traditions.
My kids sees diversity on television in most shows they watch (or I let them watch). It’s normal for them.
We need that diversity on television to be normal for all of us, not just Asian Americans.
And Jessica Wu is hilarious. She’s got the best lines.
Did you watch Fresh Off the Boat? Please support the show by watching it on ABC.com. Everyone, Asian or not, needs to see more normal(ish) Asian characters on television.