It was a great year for Asian-American women on television

 

Mic.com

We’re finally getting past all those geisha and ninja stereotypes.

Asian-American women, and women in general, have long faced the woes of horrible storylines or just plain missing from shows. This messy writing or lack of diversity on the small screen stems from the absence of minorities and women in the writers’ room.

But in 2014, we’ve seen some inspiring portrayals of Asian-American women on television that have brought dimension to ladies who are often turned into flat tropes. We still need more of these types of characters, but thankfully we’re inching toward better representation.

Headliners: 

Lucy Liu proves that Asian-American women can be leading ladies without being a stereotype. Liu is one of the most recognizable Asian-American actresses in Hollywood, known for her roles on Charlie’s Angels and Kill Bill: Vol. 1, two movies that tokenized her race. But Liu currently co-stars as Dr. Joan Watson in Elementary, a modern take on Sherlock Holmes, alongside Jonny Lee Miller.

Watson is incredibly intelligent and capable, but not without flaws. She was once a surgeon, but accidentally killed a patient. Unable to trust herself, she let her medical license expire, and eventually becomes Holmes’ detective apprentice. She’s sexy, she’s smart, she makes mistakes — in short, she’s a human being.

She has her demons, but she doesn’t let anyone make her decisions for her. She’s an interesting main character who just so happens to be Asian.

More than just casting:

Television is also making progress with writing storylines centering around Asian culture. MTV’s Teen Wolf, a teenage-supernatural drama with a dark side, may be the best example. This year, the series introduced Kira Yukimura and her family.

Portrayed by Arden Cho, Kira shows that there are many ways to be Asian — in her case, Korean-Japanese. She’s also a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit with the ability to absorb electricity, plus some deadly skills with a katana.

Furthermore, Kira’s powers and one main storyline of Teen Wolf‘s third season are deeply rooted in the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s, a smear on America’s history that’s often overlooked. The mistreatment of Japanese people during World War II is a part of many Asian-Americans’ identity and experience in the United States. Integrating this part of the past into the show is an effort to bring underrepresented history to wider audiences.

Funny and flirty:

Asian-American women can be sexual and go on tons of dates. The Mindy Project features Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, a spunky OB-GYN who makes her way through a cavalcade of flings before settling down with fellow doctor Danny Castellano in the show’s latest season. While Kaling is Indian-American and might not have the same experiences as a Korean-American, she still falls under the Asian-American umbrella.

The Fox comedy is filled with sex and intimacy, showing that Asian-American women can be vocal when it comes to the bedroom. Mindy knows what she wants, when she wants it and if she doesn’t want it (as in the episode about anal sex).

The Mindy Project also flips the script on the typical dating storyline. Usually it’s a white protagonist who goes on dates with a pretty homogeneously white lineup, until bam, there’s one diverse hottie who “makes up” for being the only one (ahem, Girls). In Kaling’s show, we see her dating a crop of primarily white dudes, showing that she’s as much in control of her dating destiny as anyone else.

Room to grow: 

The one-dimensional Asian-American character on television shows still exists — take a look at Awkward‘s Ming (Jessica Lu) or Scorpion‘s Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong). Visibility is essential, but stereotyped writing can be dangerous. Fortunately, the Dr. Joan Watsons and Kira Yukimuras are making important progress toward more diverse actors getting multifaceted characters to play.

Other disenfranchised communities are also making their way to the small screen. For these minorities, including Asian-American women, increased visibility might seem slow. But while more, and more accurate, depictions should be a given, we can celebrate what we do have — and continue to fight for diverse inclusion in the shows we love.

Was 2014 a banner year for Asian on network television?

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NBC News:

On paper, it looked like a rough year for Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television: The Mindy Project was on the verge of cancellation. NBC axed Community, and confirmed the end of Parks and Recreation for 2015. Sandra Oh officially left Grey’s Anatomy. Glee edged closer and closer to the end of its run while slowly pushing its Asian characters out of the credits.

According to an annual report on television diversity released by GLAAD, the number of Asian-Pacific Islanders on network television had been on the rise.

In the 2013-2014 season, 6% of broadcast series regular characters were Asian-Pacific Islander, but in the upcoming year, only 4% of characters will be Asian–the only ethnic group to see a decrease in diversity from the previous year.

Image: Ken Jeong, Danny Pudi
Ken Jeong, left, and Danny Pudi attend the “Community” panel on Day 5 of Comic-Con International.

Aside from the need for more representation despite the real progress we’ve made, I was disappointed that we lost some really great Asian-American representation this past year,Philip Chung, co-founder and blogger at YOMYOMF, said, listing Oh and Community’s Danny Pudi and Ken Jeong as examples.

But while the number of Asian characters appears to be shrinking next season, the quality of roles, Chung points out, has noticeably changed. Asian-Pacific Islanders in 2014 were cast in more prominent roles than the previous year, giving actors like John Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Nasim Pedrad (who previously made headlines as Saturday Night Live’s first west Asian cast member) opportunities to step beyond smaller supporting and guest appearances on TV.

Image: John Cho
John Cho’s casting in a romantic, male lead on ABC’s “Selfie” was revolutionary. But the show was cancelled after just seven episodes.

The leaps forward in casting choices have not come without their setbacks. After months of anticipation among critics and bloggers about the casting of John Cho, an Asian male, to play the lead in a romantic sitcom, his show Selfie was canceled after just seven episodes.

It’s rare to see an Asian-American male as a lead in a comedy, especially one that has romantic possibilities,” said 8Asians editor Joz Wang, who called Selfie’s cancellation the biggest disappointment for Asian Americans on TV in 2014. “While the show didn’t catch on as quickly as the network would have wanted, many Asian Americans watched the show specifically for John Cho.”

“Getting [a show] about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”

Even though Cho never received top billing in Selfie, many felt ABC’s choice to cast him as the show’s male romantic lead was long overdue. His elevation to “leading man material” appeared to be the first step in seeing more Asian-Pacific Islanders as true television stars, not just supporting characters.

To date, few Asian actors have ever been cast in lead roles on a network level. The first to break through was Pat Morita, in the 1976 show “Mr. T and Tina” (it was considered a flop, and went off the air after five episodes).

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Pat Morita led the way for Asian Americans on television. Four decades later, how much has changed?

Today, Lucy Liu plays a prominent character in Elementary, though not the lead, as does Kal Penn in the upcoming CBS drama Battle Creek. Even Hawaii Five-O, which Wang noted has been “great because it’s set in Hawaii and there are many opportunities for Asian-American actors,” stars two Caucasian leads. “All the Asian Americans still play second fiddle in terms of billing,” said Wang.

The last network show to cast an Asian male with top billing was CBS’ Martial Law starring Sammo Hung in 1998. Hung, who spoke little English, had just a few lines in each episode, and was reportedly paid half of what his co-star Arsenio Hall made.

Image: Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu plays Joan Watson on the CBS drama “Elementary.”

Currently, the total number of Asian actors to receive top billing on a network primetime series is one: Mindy Kaling. Since the 2012 premiere of The Mindy Project, Kaling has received praise for being the first woman of color to write and star in her own show since Wanda Sykes in 2003.

But Kaling has come under fire for what some see as her failure to leverage her influence for push for more diversity on network television.

In a letter to Fox, Media Action Network for Asian Americans President Guy Aoki said the show lacked diversity–particularly when it came to romantic interests. “We are concerned that in the course of two seasons, [Kaling’s] character, Dr. Lahiri, has had a ‘white-only’ dating policy involving about a dozen men,” Aoki wrote. “And except for this season’s addition of African American Xosha Roquemore the cast continues to be all white…She’s creating the impression that by surrounding her character with mostly white people and dating only white men that Lahiri’s become more accepted by the white population.”

Kaling defended the show at a SXSW panel early in the year, saying, “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”

Despite any criticism and low ratings, Kaling herself saw a year filled with successes in her own career, from being named a Glamour Woman of the Year to the announcement of her second book, Why Not Me?, which will be released next year. In November, Fox also added six episodes of The Mindy Project, stretching the season from 15 episodes to 21, and fueling speculation that the show will be renewed for a fourth season.

Kaling won’t carry the mantle for Asian network primetime leads alone much longer. She will soon be joined by Korean-American actor Randall Park, who will star in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat–the first network show to feature an all-Asian American cast since Margaret Cho‘s 1994 series All-American Girl, which was canceled after one season. Following a slate of recurring roles on television (including The Mindy Project), Park will receive top billing when the series premieres in 2015.

Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat,” Park wrote in a post for KoreAm Journal online in June. “Getting one with no bankable name stars in today’s television climate is damn near impossible. Getting one about an Asian American family on the air is a frickin’ miracle.”

Image: Randall Park
Randall Park plays the father figure in the new ABC comedy “Fresh Off the Boat.”

The series, based on the memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, has received its share of praise and criticism since ABC added it to its mid-season lineup. Park is one of the targets of the early backlash because his character is Taiwanese (not Korean like Park is) and speaks with an accent (which Park does not naturally have).

But in the same KoreAm post, Park acknowledged he raised that same issue himself, but was repeatedly assured he was the right actor for the role.

Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”

In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent,” he wrote. “But this is a character based on a real person. So it’s something that I have to honor and try to perfect as the series moves forward.”

Early viewers of the pilot have been defensive of the series, hoping to save it from suffering the same fate as All-American Girl and Selfie. “I thought it was very funny and despite some of the early backlash from people who haven’t yet seen the show,” YOMYOMF’s Chung said. “Hopefully audiences and the network will give it a chance.”

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BBC’s Sherlock a big hit in China thanks to blatant sexual tension between Watson and Holmes…

RocketNews 24:

 

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BBC Television’s Sherlock is, without a doubt, one of the best TV shows of the decade–nearly anyone who’s seen the contemporary re-imagining of the legendary Sir Connan Doyle character is bound to agree. From the mysteries themselves to any of the numerous brilliant aspects of the show, it can be a bit difficult to pin down exactly why it works so well.

Well, unless one you’re one of the many Chinese women totally enthralled with the sexual tension between Sherlock and Watson!

Sherlock‘s popularity is definitively global at this point–we’d bet that the show has fans in every continent, probably even Antarctica! Well, what else are the penguins going to do all winter? And China has its fair share of fans as well–but one of the core groups driving the show’s popularity in the county is the women who revel in the homoerotic undertones between the two main characters, the eponymous Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. John Watson.

While Japan has only just recently finished airing the second season, China has already finished the broadcast of the third, which isn’t set to be seen in Japan until May. The popularity of the show in China has been so intense that it’s even gained the attention of the BBC.

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Like the “rumors” that have long circulated about Captain Kirk and Spock, many fans can’t help noticing the intensity of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, leading to a nearly unending supply of self-published slash fan fiction. “Slash,” for the more innocent of our readers, is fan fiction stories about two characters of the same sex romantically involved with each other–usually called BL, or Boys’ Love, in Japan.

In its native Britain, fans generally seem to love the show for the mysteries, [Spoilers]Sherlock’s apparent demise at the end of the second season enthralled fans as they tried to figure out he pulled it off. In China, however, many female fans welcomed the chance to see Watson’s expression of love for Holmes and delighted at the “couple’s” return in the third season.[/End spoilers]

▼This sums things up nicely…

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Of course, this also means that China–and, indeed, the rest of the world–has an abundance of self-published slash fiction featuring Holmes and Watson, Watson and Holmes, and a female-version of Holmes paired with Watson–a reversal of the American Sherlock Holmes show Elementary. Though we’re pretty sure the Elementary has never shown the characters as romantically or sexually involved–clearly they’re doing something wrong!

Of course, none of this has escaped the attention of the BBC or lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who discussed the prevalence of online slash fan fiction in the English-speaking world in an interview with MTV.

“[Martin Freeman said] ‘Hey, look at this Tumblr.’ And I said, ‘What? Tumblr? What?’ He knows more about it than I do and he was showing me some of them. Some of it is really racy, un-viewable even on MTV. It’s cool.”

We have to say that we really respect and admire his appreciation for the fans’ work. It seems like a very calm response to what could be a very awkward situation. After all, when was the least time legions of strangers drew pictures of you being intimate with…well, anyone? Probably never, unless you happen to be our Mr. Sato!

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All of this, though, has led some Chinese Internet commenters to believe that the BBC isspecifically catering to fans interested in the romance between Sherlock and Watson.

“The slash-fic-loving women are like royalty!”

“I can’t help thinking that they’re trying to appeal to women who love the Holmes-and-Watson slash fic.”

“No matter how many thousands or tens of thousands of times Holmes picks on Watson, the doctor sticks with him like a love-struck puppy. We’ve waited two years for new episodes, and the third season is guaranteed not to disappoint!”

Naturally, there are many types of fans the world over–and that includes in China as well. After all, the show tries to stay faithful to the original stories while masterfully adding in modern embellishments and gadgets. It captures the imagination of mystery fans, adventure fans, and old-school Sherlock Holmes fans! It just so happens that a large number of fans are also captivated by the not-so-subtle romance between the two fetching young men.

So if you’re looking for a bit of fanfic to hold you over until the next season, it’s only a short google search away whether you’re searching in Chinese or English!

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BBC’s Sherlock a big hit in China thanks to blatant sexual tension between Watson and Holmes…

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Lucy Liu: ‘Acting was never a job that was ever considered. It was completely alien to my family’

 

METRO (UK):

Actress Lucy Liu, 45, made her name playing a vicious lawyer in Ally McBeal. Now she’s Dr Watson to Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes in Elementary

You grew up in New York, where Elementary is filmed. How do you enjoy shooting on home turf? Even as a New Yorker and someone who grew up in Queens, there are so many neighbourhoods I had never spent any time in before. I don’t feel that I even really know the neighbourhood I grew up in all that well. People say to me all the time: ‘Oh my God, there are so many amazing restaurants in Jackson Heights. Which one would you recommend?’ And I’m like: ‘I have no idea. I went to the diner, once in a while, for a treat. We’d get a cheeseburger deluxe if we had extra money, and that was it.’ It’s great as an adult to actually spend time in different areas and really get familiar with New York.

You also shot some of this season in London. How was that? The makers of the show really wanted to highlight all the big sites, such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace – they were really billboarding London. But as Jonny was saying to me, in a scene where we were supposedly driving in from the airport, if we were really doing that, you would not have the backdrop of the Changing of the Guard and the Houses of Parliament. And we were shooting on rooftops all over the city with backdrops that made no sense geographically. I think the attitude for the show was: forget what’s real, we spent all this money so you are really going to see London. I just sat there, pretty complacent, just very pleased to be there. It was very funny watching the assistant director trying to herd the public around during shooting, shouting: ‘Quiet on set!’ Nobody cared.

Did you have any idea when you took on the role of Ling Woo how huge Ally McBeal would be? Not at all. I had auditioned for a more regular role on Ally McBeal and I didn’t get it but then they came back a few weeks later with this guest-star role and at the same time I was being offered a play. The TV role was only eight days’ work; the play was running for three months and I wanted to do the play because it was more artistic. But my manager insisted I take Ally McBeal – she told me I was going to pass on the play that time and I was going to do this show, and that was that. Then, of course, it became such a part of the zeitgeist and changed my career.

Were you a fan of action movies before you started making them yourself? I did not sign on to do action and I didn’t start out doing it – it just blossomed into an entire career for me. And I have enough scars and grazes now to show my career trajectory. It’s like the way kids have little lines on the wall to show how tall they are; I’ve got scars after surgeries from films.

Were you familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories before you took on the role of Watson?Growing up in my family, reading Sherlock Holmes and Watson wasn’t something that was part of our lives, being from Asia. It’s not that we were learning about the Ming dynasty either but classic English literature was just not something we focused on. I read the books when I got the role, though.

Your parents moved to the US from China and met in New York. How strongly influenced by their Chinese heritage was your childhood? I was born in the US but I didn’t speak English until I went to school – I spoke Chinese with my parents. That sort of thing just changes the way you receive things and interpret and digest them. We did not grow up with a lot of money at all, and my parents definitely encouraged us to focus on our education and to work – we always had jobs. We didn’t grow up with silver spoons in our mouths – everything we had, we had to earn.

Were you a big fan of films and television growing up? We rarely went to the movies. We did watch television but becoming an actor wasn’t something that was even in the stratosphere as a career idea. What came after high school was college; what came after college was a job. Acting was never a job that was ever considered. It was completely out of the ballpark, completely alien to my family. And, I think, to a certain extent it still is.

You’re playing Watson as a woman – the first time anyone has done that. Would you like to try playing other men as women in the future? Oh, there are tons I’d like to do that with. When you go into acting you do these open calls and you have to go in with a monologue. I never went in with a female monologue, I always went in with a male one. I just thought they were more interesting, that they were closer to what I was trying to speak from my heart. There was a sense of spice and fire in them that I really enjoyed.

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Lucy Liu: ‘Acting was never a job that was ever considered. It was completely alien to my family’

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Maggie Q and Lucy Liu: Asian-Americans as Leading Ladies

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NY Times: The CW series “Nikita” begins its fourth and final season on Friday — an abbreviated run to tie up story lines, as the reluctant assassin Nikita stands falsely accused of killing the president — and while there’s still a chance, I’d like to celebrate a small but significant milestone. For six more weeks, two of the strongest and most interesting female leads on television are being played by Asian-American actresses.

I’m talking about Maggie Q, finishing her turn as Nikita, and Lucy Liu, in her second season as Joan Watson on CBS’s “Elementary,” where she is every bit as central as Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes. Both shows have their formulaic elements, but Nikita and Joan are noncartoonish, reasonably complex, multidimensional characters, and in prime time, there aren’t too many actresses getting that kind of opportunity in a lead role. Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife,” Connie Britton in “Nashville,” Claire Danes in “Homeland,” Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sex.” It’s a short list.

Of course, that broader look also indicates that the overall picture for Asian actresses (American, Canadian and otherwise) isn’t so happy. A lot of them are working, but in roles far down the food chain from Nikita and Watson, and often playing characters conceived or shaped to reflect longstanding stereotypes about Asians.

Even Maggie Q and Ms. Liu haven’t completely escaped those archetypes. Both are playing the latest iterations of durable characters traditionally inhabited by white performers, so it would seem that race shouldn’t have any particular bearing. But the truth is that they resonate with two of the most common sets of images — or clichés — about Asian women: the high-achieving, socially awkward Dr. Joan Watson is a refined example of the sexy nerd, and the lethal, sometimes icy Nikita, able to dispense violence while wearing tight, microscopic outfits, evokes a long line of dragon ladies and ninja killers.

(You could argue that the association exists only because Maggie Q was cast as Nikita, who is based on a French film character, but it’s a self-canceling argument: The men who created the show sought her out for the role.)

In both cases, though, the actresses and their writers have avoided or transcended easy stereotypes. A lot of effort has gone into humanizing Nikita, and making her a sisterly or even maternal figure for the younger assassin Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), and the emphasis on violent action has decreased over the show’s run. In “Elementary,” Watson has embraced her role as apprentice detective after suffering a catastrophic failure as a doctor, taking some of the shine off her super-competence. And unlike other characters in the same mold, she appears to have a normal, nonneurotic romantic life.

Clothes also tell a tale. Maggie Q fought some battles over her costumes in the early days of “Nikita,” and she has spent progressively more time in plain, covered-up (though still closefitting) workout-style ensembles and less in skimpy red dresses. Ms. Liu’s outfits, mostly chosen by the costume designer Rebecca Hofherr, have attracted a following of their own. The majority opinion seems to be that they reflect Watson’s quirky but confident style. To my eye, they have a clever awfulness, making Ms. Liu look good while signaling that perhaps she doesn’t spend as much time as she could in front of a mirror.

Either way, what Watson’s clothes don’t do is make her look ridiculous or hide Ms. Liu’s attractiveness. That’s the fate of some other Asian-American actresses in roles that play more obviously to geekiness or braininess, and are visually coded for easy comprehension. Liza Lapira wears fright clothes and dowdy haircuts as the sidekick Helen-Alice on “Super Fun Night” (ABC), something she already endured as the eccentric neighbor on “Don’t Trust the B — — in Apt. 23” last season. On “Awkward(MTV), Jessica Lu, as the rebellious daughter of strict Chinese parents, sports a hat with ears while Jessika Van, as her Asian rival, is dressed in starched outfits that make her look like an Amish schoolteacher. Both Ms. Lapira and Ms. Lu are accessorized with glasses — big black ones — something neither appears to wear in real life. Also occasionally donning glasses is Brenda Song as a video-game company executive in “Dads,” on Fox, though her most distinctive costume remains the sailor-girl outfit she wore in the pilot, part of an extended joke about the sexualization of Asian women that didn’t accomplish much besides sexualizing an Asian woman.

And there are other actresses playing less evolved versions of the Nikita-style action hero. Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May, the black-leather-jacketed pilot in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC), is a stoic enforcer with a dragon-lady vibe; Grace Park’s Kono Kalakaua on “Hawaii Five-0” (CBS) is equally lethal (she often does most of the kicking and punching) but favors bikinis and tight jeans. On “Once Upon a Time” (ABC), Jamie Chung plays the Disney version of a mythical Chinese swordswoman.

It takes some looking to find Asian actresses in roles that don’t easily fit into one of these two broad categories. There are a few jobs in a third category, the manipulative or overly protective Asian mother: Jodi Long on “Sullivan and Son” (TBS), Lauren Tom on “Supernatural” (CW). On the entertaining but paper-thin “Beauty and the Beast” (also on CW), Kristin Kreuk stars as a cop who just happens to be mixed race. There is, of course, a major Asian-Canadian female television star not mentioned yet: Sandra Oh, whose Dr. Cristina Yang is not the lead but is a major member of the ensemble on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” As with Nikita and Watson, Yang displays some typical Asian markers — she’s a hypercompetitive, socially awkward doctor — whose race is matter of fact because there’s so much more to know about her. Yang, along with Watson and Nikita, could be considered exceptions that prove a rule, but I think the real lesson here is probably that TV would be a better place for women of all races if Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) could just write all the shows.

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Maggie Q and Lucy Liu: Asian-Americans as Leading Ladies

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Lucy Liu signs up for Twitter with the help of Jimmy Fallon

The other night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Fallon helped actress Lucy Liu tweet her first tweet:

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You can follow Liu @LucyLiu. Within 24 hours, Liu had over 29,000 fans. Liu seems to be friends with Fallon and was on his show to remind her fans that she’s on the hit CBS show, “Elementary.”

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Lucy Liu signs up for Twitter with the help of Jimmy Fallon

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Lucy Liu discusses Watson and other characters in DVD featurette for ‘Elementary’ Season 1

ElementarySeason 1 is coming to DVD with a bunch of extras. One of those extras is the featurette, “A Holmes of Their Own.” Watch Lucy Liu talk about characters — especially Watson — in this exclusive video preview.

In the video, Liu talks about her first impressions of the “Elementary” characters from when she got the earliest scripts. Needless to say, she was impressed. The actress also discusses the kind of research she does in order to get ready for playing a new character.

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Lucy Liu discusses Watson and other characters in DVD featurette for ‘Elementary’ Season 1

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