Why ABC's 'Fresh Off The Boat' Is An Honest Asian American Portrayal
My biggest fear, which I probably shared with millions of other Asian Americans on the edge of their seats while watching ABC’s new sitcom, "Fresh off the Boat," was that it would be, in main character Eddie Huang’s words, "a cornstarch sitcom."
It has been 21 years (eternity in Hollywood years) since a primetime airing sitcom featured primarily Asian Americans.
Whether or not people realized it, this would and will have a monumental impact on Asian Americans in media.
The show focuses on an Asian American family — a husband and wife, their three young boys and a grandma — moving from the homogenous, DC Chinatown to the primarily white, suburban DC.
So many things could have gone wrong with the pilot; there could have been stale jokes, cheesy and cheap dialogue, or worst of all, harmful stereotypes of Asian Americans abounding across televisions.
But, almost immediately after I turned on my TV, my fears were assuaged.
The show opened up to strains of hip-hop and the eternal Biggie Smalls while Hudson Yang, who plays Eddie Huang, strolled about in his swagger.
The very obvious homage to Will Smith’s "Fresh Prince" fluttered across the screen.
We then met the rest of the cast: Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen play Huang’s younger, precocious, adorable brothers, Emery and Evan, respectively.
Constance Wu is the show’s gorgeous and stern matriarch, and Randall Park, who played Kim Jong-Un in "The Interview," is the laidback patriarch. Lucille Soong rounds out the cast as the quiet, yet hilarious, grandmother.
The show is extremely relatable for any ethnic minority child growing up in America, just trying to assimilate and fit in. As a child, the worst thing to do is to stand out; being unique and finding yourself is more welcomed in college.
Children are cruel and blunt, and being different is an invitation to be ostracized.
While younger brother Emery does surprisingly well in fitting in by getting a white girlfriend and being invited to parties, Eddie experiences the typical growing pains of a foreigner who tries to fit in.
Throughout the show, Eddie sticks to his guns, allowing it to feel organic. He never makes cruel jokes at the expense of his own culture (Go Taiwan!) and when his jokes do reflect the culture, it's hilarious because it's actually true (i.e. the supermarket flashback).
The pilot even reached a brave climax in which another student calls Eddie a "chink." I applaud the studio for being unafraid to touch such a tender issue and work it into the story.
Since the birth of Hollywood, Asians have been portrayed as effeminate and weak.
Perhaps threatened by Sessue Hayakawa’s brooding good looks (arguably Hollywood’s first sex symbol), Asian men were desexualized and decimated in media while Asian women became sexualized and fetishized.
Look at I.Y. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" or Luk Luk Dong in "16 Candles." Even modern movies like "Pitch Perfect" portray Asians in poor light.
Rather than showing off our positive stereotypes, like being musically gifted, we are the very eccentric weirdos.
This negative media attention has done no wonders for helping the Asian culture move forward.
It used to boggle my mind that people actually thought real Chinese food was General Tso’s chicken and brown sauce.
The average cook in your Chinese takeout restaurant probably has the same culinary background as your average line cook at Burger King.
I went to a predominantly white school and the number of kids who thought all Asians knew some sort of martial arts was staggering.
We are the perpetual foreigners, doomed to be cultural nomads until our homes can finally accept us for who we are.
This show is a gigantic leap for Asian Americans. It’s accessible enough to be non-threatening to the masses to partake, but stays true to Asian Americans, too.
While it’s not perfect, it’s a step I’ll take.
The important thing is we got Asians on the screen, and hopefully, the show gains traction.
Here’s to Mr. Eddie Huang sticking to his guns and hopefully, to 10 more seasons.