Asian-American media watchdog Kulture aims to abolish Asian stereotypes in entertainment

PR Newswire:

Asian-Americans have been unfairly maligned by Hollywood over the years and the trend shows no sign of abating. Kulture monitors the entertainment media for offensive representations of Asian-Americans and documents stereotypes and denigration of Asians in movies and television. The site is easy to navigate, categorizing offenses by media outlet, by type of offense, such as “Reinforces Stereotypes,” and by media type, such as TV commercials. Visitors to the site can also submit their own witnessed offenses through the “Report an Offense” feature.

Kulture is the only website that maintains a database of media offenses against Asian-Americans. They pull the curtain back onHollywood’s subtle racism and feature write ups that explore the offensive themes and tropes that are used to belittle Asian men and sexualize Asian women. In addition to providing the information on the offense, Kulture also analyzes the situation and provides explanation as to why it is considered offensive. Popular shows featured on the site include: “2 Broke Girls,” “Royal Pains,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Mindy Project.”

The offenses range from “Depicting Asians as Perpetual Immigrants” to “Asians as a Subordinate.” Every media offense, once added to the ‘Kulture Offense Database,’ stays forever. It serves as a repository and reference for the Asian-American community to know which TV shows, which directors, and which companies stereotype and demean Asian cultures.

According to Kulture, the Asian-American community doesn’t yet have full awareness of how depictions in the entertainment media disadvantage them in real life. As an example, Hollywood representations of Asians as timid translate into real-world stereotypes whereby whites refuse to see Asians as leaders.  Asians are often unable to fundamentally change attitudes towards them, which are stubbornly reinforced by Hollywood. In other cases, Asians have a general awareness, but there is no common understanding as to why exactly certain Hollywood depictions are offensive; this forms a shaky basis from which to advocate change. Kulture addresses this by unpacking TV and movie scenes in detail and explaining the offensive nature of them.

Asian-Americans account for approximately 5.6% of the United States population, roughly 18.2 million people. According to student surveys conducted by the University of Michigan, Asian-Americans, when asked, could not name more than a few Asian actors, and the ones they could name were often portrayed in negative terms. Women are often sexualized while men are cast as villains or uncultured characters.

Many Asians know TV shows represent them in a bad light. But they may think they’re alone in that view,” says Kulture’s founder Tim Gupta. “Kulture spotlights how Hollywood mocks and excludes Asian men while fetishizing Asian women. Kulture helps Asians and those concerned about media racism stay abreast of how Asians are depicted, and we will eventually serve as a platform for them to take action against Hollywood offenders.”

To view the list of media offenses, visit www.kulturemedia.org.

Ki Hong Lee romances ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ on Tina Fey’s new Netflix show

kihonglee

Audrey Magazine:

This past weekend, Netflix premiered Tina Fey’s new series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. While Fey doesn’t star in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt like she does in 30 Rock, the show is unmistakably hers with its sense of outlandish, wacky humor. Another commonality Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has with 30 Rock is toeing the line with racial humor, whether it’s the use of ironic blackface in 30 Rock or Jane Krakowski’s backstory in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

When Korean American actor Ki Hong Lee (from The Maze Runner and People’s “Sexiest Men Alive” 2014 list) shows up as an immigrant Vietnamese character named Dong in Kimmy’s ESL class, it’s hard not to see parallels with Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles.  As soon as Dong is introduced, he laughs at Kimmy’s name because “it means ‘penis’ in Vietnamese.”

There are numerous “dong” puns afterwards, but Kimmy quickly tells a character to get over the snickering since Dong is a common Vietnamese name.

The rest of the series both plays into and subverts Asian stereotypes with Ki Hong Lee’s character. On one hand, Dong is working as a Chinese food delivery boy, good at math (though this is mostly just used as an excuse to have Kimmy and Dong spend time with each other) and worried about being deported. On the other hand, Dong is the rarest of the Asian American male characters — a viable love interest.

Part of what made Sixteen Candles Long Duk Dong offensive and racist is that he is made to seem like a buffoon. Long Duk Dong is not a human character, he is simply an amalgamation of Asian stereotypes to be laughed at. His romantic interest in Molly Ringwald’s character is never taken seriously by either the other characters or the audience. And therein lies the key difference between Long Duk Dong and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s character, Dong.

While Dong’s character is not without stereotypes, he is never ripped of his humanity. His romantic interest in Kimmy is never played for laughs; they are both outsiders in New York, they share a childlike innocence and glee in the silliest things, and they actually like each other. It’s rare to see an Asian male character as a viable part of a love triangle and even rarer to see the Asian guy “win.” In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy chooses Dong and their romance is shown as something real.

By the end of season one, Dong is stuck in a situation where he can either continue to show up in the second season or be easily written out (Ki Hong Lee is currently a guest star on the show). Yes, Dong is character that could be tagged as #YourFaveIsProblematic on Tumblr, but if Ki Hong Lee isn’t too busy running in more mazes, we would definitely like to see where his romance with Kimmy goes.

 

Jon Foo cast in Jackie Chan role in CBS’ TV adaptation of Rush Hour franchise

Deadline/ComingSoon.net/Angry Asian Man:

The 1998 Rush Hour movie helped make Hong Kong film star and martial arts wiz Jackie Chan a household name in America, jumpstarting a successful Hollywood career. Now CBS’ TV adaptation of the hit movie franchise is looking to do the same for Jon Foo, who has landed the Detective Lee role played in the movies by Chan.

Written/executive produced by Bill Lawrence and Blake McCormick and directed/exec produced by Jon Turteltaub, CBS’ Rush Hour pilot centers on Lee (Foo), a stoic, by-the-book Hong Kong police officer assigned to a case in Los Angeles, where he’s forced to work with a cocky black LAPD officer, Carter (originally played by Chris Tucker), who has no interest in a partner. A top detective with the Hong Kong police department, Detective Lee is a dedicated professional and master martial artist, a man of few words who knows how to get the job done.

The movies’ director Brett Ratner and producer Arthur Sarkissian also executive produce with Jeff Ingold for Warner Bros TV and Lawrence’s studio-based Doozer. Ratner directed three Rush Hour films between 1998 and 2007 with Chan headlining opposite Chris Tucker in all three. Combined, the three films grossed more than $850 at the worldwide box office.

Like Chan, British actor Foo, who is of Chinese and Irish descent, is a trained martial artist who has done stunt work and built a resume as an international action star. In the U.S., he is probably best known for his role in the 2010 feature Tekken.

Foo is trained in a variety of martial arts styles and is also well known for playing Ryu in the fan film Street Fighter: Legacy.

 

Controversial Tweet about Eddie Huang’s “Fresh Off The Boat”

The official Twitter account for ABC‘s upcoming spin-off comedy series Fresh Off the Boat is in some hot water after posting a controversial ad depicting various cultural hats. Chef Eddie Huang, whose memoir serves as the basis for the forthcoming comedy series, expressed his distaste for the ad, calling it “plain offensive and ridiculous.”

Receiving criticism from audiences for its stereotypical nature in particular for its “bamboo hat” reference, the Twitter ad has since been deleted as executive producer Jeff Yang confirms. While it is no secret that Huang has expressed his frustration on getting the television series on air, the chef praises ABC’s efforts in pioneering a story that has yet to be told on major networks.

Check out the tweet below…

View image on Twitter

Randall Park on what it means to star on TV’s first Asian American family sitcom in 20 Years

randall_park

 

Audrey Magazine: (story by Randall Park)

 

It happened! A pilot that I worked on got picked up to be a series!

Now, I’ve done several of these during the course of my career, and none have made it past the pilot stage. But after over a decade of hard work in this business, it’s finally happened. I will be a regular character on a nationally televised show. But this is not just any show. When it makes its debut next year, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat will be the first Asian American family sitcom to air on network television in 20 years, since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl. For me, coming from an Asian American studies background, this is like a wet dream. But it’s also a lot of pressure.

People are hungry to see themselves represented on television, and people rightfully want to be represented properly. But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and proper representation means different things to different people. For example, there has been a great deal of online debate about whether or not the title Fresh Off the Boat is offensive. The answer isn’t so clear-cut: it’s yes for some, no for others. Again, members of our community do not all think alike. But with that said, this particular show is based on an amazing book bearing the same title by Eddie Huang. It is his memoir, it is his title, and I, for one, am all for it.

I do, however, have my own issues with the show: first of all, the fact that I’m on it. To have a Korean American actor play the father of a Taiwanese-Chinese American family is an issue that is not lost on me. I’ve even expressed my concerns repeatedly about this to Eddie himself. And every time, he has shown me nothing but love and support, assuring me that I’m the only one for this job. Whether true or not, I take that to heart because, again, it is his story.

Then, there’s the issue of having to speak with an accent. In an ideal world, I would never have to play a character with an accent. 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.

Playing an immigrant character on a television comedy also has its own inherent risks: Is the audience laughing because the joke is funny or because I’m speaking with an accent? Are they laughing because I’m a human being in a funny situation or because they think I’m a funny-talking immigrant? I am constantly analyzing through this lens, almost to the point of paranoia.

Geesh, white actors never have to go through this sh-t.

But issues aside, I am proud to be a part of this amazing show. Getting a television series on the air is an incredible feat. 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. Just know that. And regardless of how Fresh Off the Boat does ratings-wise, I believe it’s a step toward more varied representation on the small and big screens. Hopefully, it inspires others to tell their own stories and translate them to a TV show, as Eddie did. It is possible. And we shouldn’t have to wait another 20 years for it to happen again.

 

This column was originally printed in KoreAm Journal. It was later published in Audrey Magazine’s Winter 2014-15 issue– Get your copy here

Fresh Off the Boat premieres Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 8:30 pm. and a second episode will air at 9:30. Fresh Off the Boat will move to its regular 8:00 pm Tuesday timeslot on Feb. 10.  

Robert Kinoshita, robot designer for ‘Forbidden Planet’ and ‘Lost in Space,’ dies at 100

Kinoshita with a fan-built replica of the Lost in Space robot in 2004.

Kinoshita with a fan-built replica of the Lost in Space robot in 2004

The Hollywood Reporter:

Robert Kinoshita, a production designer and art director who designed the iconic robots for the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet and the 1960s TV series Lost in Space, has died. He was 100.

Kinoshita died Dec. 9 at a nursing care facility in Torrance, Calif., family friend Mike Clark told The Hollywood Reporter.
For Robby the Robot on Forbidden Planet, Kinoshita cobbled together several concepts contributed by MGM’s art and special effects departments, and made a miniature prototype of wood and plastic. The model, with a domed head of clear plastic, was quickly approved, and Kinoshita completed its construction. The film received an Oscar nomination for special effects.
Kinoshita was in the work pool of 20th Century Fox’s art department in the mid-1960s when producer Irwin Allen selected him to become the first-season art director for Lost in Space, which aired for three seasons on CBS from 1965-68.
Kinoshita’s bubble-brained Robot — a late addition to the cast whose famous line was “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” — featured a metallic barrel chest, light-up voice panel and rubberized legs. Kinoshita rushed to deliver the complicated costume shortly before the show entered production. (Dick Tufeld provided the voice.)
The Robot received as much fan mail as its the human cast, and a nationwide organization of fans, The B9 Robot Builders, has built more 100 full-size Robot replicas.
For the series, Kinoshita also modified the Robinson family’s spacecraft, designed for the pilot by Bill Creber, to include a lower deck with living quarters, dining room, lab and Robot dock. He stretched the production budget by creatively raiding props and discards from the Fox backlot.
Born in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1914, Kinoshita grew up in the Boyle Heights area. He attended Maryknoll Japanese Catholic School, Roosevelt High School and USC’s School of Architecture, and became interested in the movies, receiving his first practical experience on the 1937 film 100 Men and a Girl.
He and his wife, Lillian, were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II, but a sponsor allowed the couple to leave before war’s end and move to Wisconsin, where he became proficient in industrial design and fabricating products out of plastic.
Kinoshita came back to California in the early 1950s and returned to the movie industry just as MGM was gearing up for production of Forbidden Planet. In addition to Robby, Kinoshita designed several sets including the lab of Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon).
Also in the 1950s, he also created the robot Tobor from Here Comes Tobor (1957) and worked for ZIV Television on such series as Science Fiction Theater, Highway Patrol, Sea Hunt, Bat Masterson and Men Into Space.
Later, he served as associate producer and production designer on the independent films The Phantom Planet (1961) and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970) and was a free-lancer on such series as Hawaii-5-0, Barnaby Jones and Gene Roddenberry‘s pilot Planet Earth.
Kinoshita claimed his longevity was due to clean living and daily doses of apple cider vinegar, Clark said. He is survived by a daughter, Pat.
A private service was held on Dec. 23 at Green Hills Mortuary in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The Stndrd: Profile on Galavant’s Karen David

Karen David by John P. Fleenor (1)

 

The STNDRD (by Adam C. Better):

Karen David is a captivating young beauty that seems capable of accomplishing anything artistically. David was raised in Canada and also spent some of her formative years in London. She knew at a very early age that she wanted to pursue a career in acting and music.

Her newest project is the ABC show, Galavant. “It’s Monty Python meets The Princess Bride. I feel so lucky to be part of something so special. It really has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said David in regards to working on her new hit show.

David is also actively involved in the world of fashion and you can learn about that side of her at queenstrunk.com. You can keep up with Karen David’s career at karendavid.com.

Where are you from originally?

I’m a bit of a tossed salad—a mishmosh of Chinese, Khasi (a tribe from where I was born) and Indian. There is a bit of “Mazel Tov” in my surname for good measure. Culturally, I am Canadian and British. But, I was born near the foothills of the Himalayas in a place called Shillong.

How old were you when you knew what you wanted to do for a profession?

I remember the day so clearly—I was only 6 years old when my older sister and I watched Xanadu together. As soon as I saw the gorgeous Olivia-Newton John singing like an angel and acting on the screen…I was bitten hard. I knew right at that moment that I wanted to sing and act just like her. There was no looking back and my parents told me right then and there that I had to take the initiative and work really hard. They certainly had no connections in “the biz.” I love that my parents didn’t discourage me. Normally Asian, or South Asian, families want their children to be a doctor, or lawyer or an accountant. Mine said I should dream big, but back it up with a good work ethic.

What do you feel is your greatest strength as an artist?   

I’m all heart—which is a good thing—but it can make things tough too. I was told by one of my mentors that following your heart is the toughest choice to make. But, it is a much more rewarding path and a regret free zone. When I’m acting or singing, I do so with all my heart. Any fears or nerves I may have subside, because the heart is an honest and “real” place to speak from. There’s no hiding and I kind of like that. Throwing yourself in the deep end and trusting that you will land on your feet.

The fashion world is a big part of your life—can you talk a little bit about your love for fashion?

Growing up in London really taught me a lot about fashion. My wardrobe definitely evolved when I moved over to the UK. I love how everyone in Europe dresses according to their own individuality and their personalities. Fashion is an extension of who they are.

Do you feel more of a personal connection to music or acting?

I think because I started singing and acting at the same time—I feel connected to both. They balance me out creatively. I know being an actor makes me a better songwriter and writing new music inspires me. It takes your mind away from the working actor mentality of ‘what am I going to do in between roles?’ My main goal is to continue to be creative and inspired.

What kind of projects are you usually attracted to?

I love roles that are the complete opposite of myself—or characters with massive flaws. They are fascinating and challenging to play. Roles like that scare me at first and that’s when I know I’m going to love embarking on an adventure with that character.

Can you talk a little bit about the obstacles a minority woman faces in Hollywood?

I know there are challenges. I hear minority actors talk about it. But, I must admit, I have never personally experienced it during my own journey. I’m not saying that what those actors are talking about is wrong. It’s important to bring awareness to it. But, for myself, I never wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m a brown person or I’m a brown actor.’ I just see me. All the good and all the flaws. Just me, and that is what I want everyone else to see. I know my mixed heritage has allowed me to play all kinds of different roles. I have tested a couple of times for roles where originally they said they wanted a more ‘exotic’ looking actress. Then the girl who ends up getting the role is blonde and blue eyed. What can you do? That is something beyond my control. I just focus on being the best that I can be. Every actor has their own set of challenges, whatever ethnicity they are. It’s a tough business, but there is room for everyone who has talent.

 

Robert Kinoshita, creator of Hollywood robots, dies at 100

Angry Asian Man:

Robert Kinoshita, an artist, art director and production designer who was best known for designing some of the most iconic robots from Hollywood film and television, has died. He was 100.

Kinoshita served as production designer on a number of films and TV shows, and is responsible for creating Robby the Robot for the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet, as well as the robot Tobor from the 1954 film Tobor the Great and the 1957 television pilot Here Comes Tobor.

He was also the first-season art director for the TV show Lost in Space, for which he created one of the show’s most popular characters — the robot, best remembered for the line “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!

Before finding a career in the backstages of Hollywood, Kinoshita and his wife Lillian were among the thousands of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in camps during World War II.

Born in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 1914, Kinoshita grew up in the Boyle Heights area. He attended Maryknoll Japanese Catholic School, Roosevelt High School and USC’s School of Architecture, and became interested in the movies, receiving his first practical experience on the 1937 film 100 Men and a Girl.

He and his wife, Lillian, were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Arizona during World War II, but a sponsor allowed the couple to leave before war’s end and move to Wisconsin, where he became proficient in industrial design and fabricating products out of plastic.

Kinoshita came back to California in the early 1950s and returned to the movie industry just as MGM was gearing up for production of Forbidden Planet. In addition to Robby, Kinoshita designed several sets including the lab of Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon).

Also in the 1950s, he also created the robot Tobor from Here Comes Tobor (1957) and worked for ZIV Television on such series as Science Fiction Theater, Highway Patrol, Sea Hunt, Bat Masterson and Men Into Space.

According to a family friend, Kinoshita died December 9 at an assisted living center in Torrance, California.

Rest in peace.

The importance of diversity, and ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat”

IMDB TV:

Press Tour wouldn’t be Press Tour without a few stunningly thoughtless questions posed to panels of actors and producers.

Most of the terrible questions that get asked as part of the Television Critics Association’s press conferences don’t turn up in articles. We keep them as Press Tour war stories to be hauled out for our own entertainment later on. Plus, we’re all just trying to do our jobs here. Nobody’s perfect. Cover this beat long enough, and attend enough TCA events, and a person is bound to bungle a few questions. Besides, to the millions of folks who aren’t here, a minor gaffe at an industry event simply isn’t interesting.

But every now and again, someone sputters out a verbal air biscuit that leaves the room reeling while also speaking to a larger conversation about a show. This is precisely what happened Wednesday morning during the panel for “Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC’s midseason sitcom based on the bestselling memoir by celebrity chef Eddie Huang.  Starring Randall Park and Constance Wu,Fresh Off the Boat” is the only sitcom on television that stars Asian actors and captures one view of what it’s like to grow up Asian in America.

And what, some may ask, makes that experience unique among minorities? For the “Fresh Off the Boat” cast and producers, nearly all of whom were born in the U.S., it means getting a question like this in a forum where people really should know better: “I love the Asian culture. And I was just talking about the chopsticks, and I just love all that. Will I get to see that, or will it be more Americanized?”*

Yes. That happened.

This may be the most ignorant question spoken in this room in a long time,  but it also demonstrates why television desperately needs “Fresh Off the Boat” and more shows like it. Comedies and dramas that deftly employ universal themes and humor that resonate with the wider audience, featuring minority-led casts that don’t ignore said cast’s ethnicity, are still uncommon.  In fact, ABC is the home to more series featuring non-white leads than any other broadcast network. Think “black-ish,” “Scandal,” “Cristela,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”

Amazingly, in 2015, ABC’s insistence on diversity is met with a sense of awe, and an implication that what the Alphabet network is doing is a bold experiment.

In the case of “Fresh Off the Boat,” maybe it is. Networks have a long history of waxing and waning on the diversity front, though the occasional industry-wide pushes for diversity every few seasons tends to benefit African American and, to a far lesser extent, Latino actors. “Cristela” and “black-ish” may not be monster hits, but they still have mass appeal, and are not required to divorce the culture of their characters from the story. Credit the success of Norman Lear‘s comedies in the ’70s, “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son”, and just as significantly, “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s, for that.

Can you remember the last time a series gave us a view of life from an Asian American perspective? There was 1994′s “All-American Girl,” the short-lived and quickly whitewashed sitcom vehicle for Margaret Cho that nearly killed her. (It also aired on ABC.)  The show only focused on Cho’s character and her family briefly before revamping into a weak “Friends” clone, then disappearing altogether. For years after its demise, shows cast an Asian friend now and again, but it took until 2005 before audiences got a deeply complex, powerful Asian character in “Grey’s Anatomy‘s” Cristina Yang. So yes — there have been strides.

Then again, see: “2 Broke Girls.” As long as characters like Han Lee are still on TV, well, one can understand why somebody would think that it’s perfectly reasonable to ask a cast of Asian actors if their eating utensils will play a prominent role in a comedy about so much more than their cultural experience.

The thing is it’s important to have, for me, [is] a qualified support for the show, to make sure the show stays authentic, the show stays responsible to the book and the Asian community and people of color in America in general,” Huang explained to the TV reporters in the room. “I believe the show is doing that, and I believe the show is very strategic and smart in how it’s opening things up.”

In its first episode, “Fresh Off the Boat” dives into the absurdity that can be found when one moves from a large, multi-ethnic city (Washington D.C.) to a homogenous Florida neighborhood; the universal appeal of hip-hop to outsiders and its caché within the dominant culture; and the odd, clique-ish behavior that exists within suburbia. The same episode also shows what happens when its young central character,  Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang), gets slapped by a racial slur.

Through it all, the rap music-obssessed Eddie has the same concerns as any kid his age would have. He’s trying to fit in at his new school but he doesn’t eat the right food, or wear the right shoes. He just out there trying to survive. No wonder he idolizes Nas and Biggie Smalls — their music extols the virtues of hustling to get rich and getting over, ideals that many consider to be the at the heart of the American dream.

In America, I’m a foreigner because of my Korean heritage,” Cho once said. “In Asia, because I was born in America, I’m a foreigner. I’m always a foreigner.
Nowadays Cho is a personality known for her comedy and for her outspoken support of gender equality and LGBT rights. She’s currently a co-host of a TLC’s weekly series “All About Sex,” where she serves as the show’s expert on alternative sexuality.  With time, and more television series that expose viewers to artists like Cho and stories like the ones told in “Fresh Off the Boat” — American stories with a different flavor — the day will come when Asian culture is fully recognized as an aspect of American culture. On that day, nobody’s going to care about the chopsticks.

Bamboo Ceiling TV: Eddie Huang details the surreal experience of adapting his memoir for television

New York Magazine/Vulture:

“Just say the line, said Melvin, our executive producer.

“Did you read the book 1?” I asked. “If you can find any crumb of a complete thought in the book that remotely infers ‘America is great,’ I’ll read the line.”

“Eddie, we need it for the episode. It’s a big moment! You have a black kid and a Chinese kid breaking bread over a Jewish hip-hop concert. Where else could this happen? America IS great!”

“Of course you picked a Beastie Boys concert. That’s what you people do — you make Asian sitcoms for white people praising Ill Communicationbecause we’re both acceptable, unthreatening gateways to black culture. These kids couldn’t break bread at a Gravediggaz show?”

“It’s not your story anymore. Get over it. The kids ARE NOT going to a Gravediggaz show! This is a HISTORIC network-television show inspired by your life, and it’s going to get Americans excited about us. 2It’s never going to be the book; it’s never going to be Baohaus. 3It’s Panda Express,4and you know what? Orange chicken gets America really excited about Chinese people in airports.”

“Then what did you buy my book for? Just make A Chink’s Life … With Free Wonton Soup or Soda: A reverse-yellowface show with universal white stories played out by Chinamen.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about. This show is on the AMERICAN BROADCASTING CHANNEL. It’s the holy grail! Network television! Just say the line, man …”

Complete silence.

“How about a compromise? What about ‘Ain’t America great?’ or ‘America’s not half-bad!’”

I’d known Asian-Americans like Melvin my entire life. Those Booker T. Washington 5–Professor X–Uncle Chans, willing to cast down their buckets, take off Cerebro, and forget that successful people of color are in many ways “chosen” and “allowed” to exist while the others get left behind. They spout off about the American Dream or Only in America as if they’re about to rob the next great fighter from Brownsville. 6I empathize with Melvin, but Uncle Chans are basically born-again-Christian felons who will praise anything as long as they don’t get sent back to Rikers. I’d rather be Tunechi, “Left Rikers in a Phantom, that’s my nigga.”7

From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Yick Wo v. Hopkins to your favorite talking head’s favorite “ching chong” jokes, America never ran out of the shadows to defend the honor of their obedient Chinamen. Despite being the “man’s” preferred lapdog of color, everything Asian-American immigrants have was fought for. We still wake up spotting the man 10 points, walking with our heads down, apologizing for our FOB-y aunts and uncles as if aspiring to wash your shirt or do your taxes were really such an insidiously foreign idea. In a way, I accept that I have to be 10 points better; what I won’t accept are Melvins.

“Run the tape.” I said to the editor recording the session. The red light went on.

“America ain’t three fifths bad.” #Compromise

Huang (in Basquiat crown) with his family in 1985. (Photo: Courtesy of Eddie Huang)

I used to try to understand my existence underneath the Bamboo Ceiling, 8but with no way out through the master’s house, I laced up my Timb boots, initiated Chinkstronaut mode, and escaped the gravitational pull of society. Since 2009, I’ve opened Baohaus, produced and hosted Huang’s World for Vice, and, in January 2013, Spiegel and Grau published my memoir, Fresh Off the Boat. It told my life story as a Taiwanese-Chinese-American creating his own America replete with bound feet, bowl cuts, sports sex, and soup dumps. I even got love in the Times. Dwight Garner said it was “a surprisingly sophisticated memoir about race and assimilation in America. It’s an angry book, as much James Baldwin and Jay-Z as Amy Tan. That it’s also bawdy and frequently hilarious nearly, if not entirely, seals the deal.” Life was good.

I also became a TED fellow. But after two days, I got kicked out of Chris Anderson’s Carefully Curated Conference for Intellectual Limp Biscuit. That’s when I met Melvin Mar, who came through and kind of rescued me …

“I love the book. I want to make it a show, buddy!” said Melvin. “LikeMalcolm in the Middle or Everybody Hates Chris, with a 12-year-old Eddie and retro ’90s setting in Orlando.”

“Everybody hates those shows.”

Malcolm in the Middle was great!”

“Okay, I liked Malcolm in the Middle. But Malcolm’s dad turned into a meth dealer on AMC. I don’t want my dad portrayed that way.”

“What are you talking about? Everyone loves Heisenberg.”

“My dad has better hair,” I said. “But I need more than that. I needMarried With Chinese People. I want Ed O’Neill to go yellowface with a perm, faux-gator shoes, and blue-lens Cartier frames. If you can make that happen, you can have the book.” #TheGodAlBundy

After several conversations with my agent about industry standards and Ed O’Neill’s availability and unwillingness to go yellowface, we came to an agreement on a term sheet with the studio, which simultaneously attached Nahnatchka Khan (who was behind Don’t Trust the B— in Apt. 23) as the writer and got a put-pilot commitment from ABC. I was in Chengdu when Melvin broke the news.

“What’d I tell you, man? I’m gonna make you a star.”

“I’m already a star, Melvin, my basketball team made the second-division finals in the Fastbreak NYC playoffs this year, and I hit two 3s.”

“Your life story is going to be on network television! Get excited!”

“I would be excited, but you attached a Persian writer, and I’m kinda worried it’s going to be The Shahs of Cul-de-Sac Holando.”

“Relax, Natch 9is a unicorn! She’s a Persian writer who understands the American experience of getting shit on, fighting back, and wrote Don’t Trust the B— in Apt. 23.”

The sitcom version of his family.

 

“I get it. She has her own America complete with songs of saffron ice-cream dreams deferred, and we can show solidarity in Raekwon’s ice-cream truck,10 but it’s not the same. I’m rotten fucking banana,11 and this can’t be Soft-Ass Glutinous Asians in Apartment 23! This shit’s gotta go hard. We haven’t had an eat-rocks Asian male role model since Data 12. And why isn’t there a Taiwanese or Chinese person who can write this? I’m sure there’s some angry Korean dude in Hollywood who grew up eating Spam, watching his dad punch his mom in the face, who knows how to use Final Draft!”

I didn’t understand how network television, the one-size fits-all antithesis to Fresh Off the Boat, was going to house the voice of a futuristic chinkstronaut. I began to regret ever selling the book, because Fresh Off the Boat was a very specific narrative about SPECIFIC moments in my life, such as kneeling in a driveway holding buckets of rice overhead or seeing pink nipples for the first time. The network’s approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans resembling moo goo gai pan written by a Persian-American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane. But who is that show written for?

We all know that universal demographic doesn’t exist; even at the level of the person, the network’s ideal viewer doesn’t exist, much less know what it wants. This universal market of Jos. A. Bank customers watches cornstarch television and eats at Panda Express because that’s all they’re being offered. I didn’t need the show to be Baohaus or Din Tai Fung; I would have settled for Chipotle. Yet, for some reason, no one wants to improve the quality of offerings until someone forces them to. A Jedi has to say, “I want to be incrementally better than the Seth MacFarlanes and McDonald’s of the world!” for anything to change. Isn’t that the genius of Shake Shack, South Park, and In-N-Out Burger? What happened to being an incrementally aspirational society? Wasn’t America the City on the Hill? In Hollywood, it felt like, we were the town in a valley run by western Michigan.

“Listen, buddy, the show is never going to be the book. What you are hoping is that people watch the show, buy the book, then say, ‘You know, that show is funny, but the book is better,’” said Melvin.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way! Game of Thrones is based on books, and it’s fucking heat rocks.”

“I hate to break this up, but the books are better,” whispered my manager Rafael.

“You get what I’m saying. It’s still a good show.”

“Eddie, the point of a network show is for people to come home from work, laugh for 22 minutes on the couch, watch your TV family solve the A-plot and B-plot, and end up on a similar couch as one big, happy, AMERICAN family.”

“That show is a lie, Melvin!”

My instincts told me to call a former space traveler. Someone who’d shunned gravity and returned, only to retreat once again: Margaret Cho. I had never met or even talked to Margaret, but I remember her jokes about penises being like snowflakes and still refer to my dick as a six-inch meatball sub. When she wasn’t helping me contextualize my penis in the pantheon of fast-casual sandwiches, she helped me navigate being Asian in America: a spirit guide leading me through San Francisco bookstores, fragrance departments, and Korean dinners. All-American Girl 13was America’s first Asian — specifically, Korean-American — sitcom, but it got canceled after one season. Asians like myself ate our hopes and dreams by the grain burnt at the bottom of a seasonal stone bowl, vowing to one day return.

“They have no idea what they’re doing, but they’ll have opinions about everything you’re doing,” she warned.

“It’s as bad as everyone says, huh?”

“It’s worse. When I did it, I was just happy to be there, and every time they told me I was too Asian, not Asian enough, too fat, too skinny, I listened. You have to fight them at every step.”

“Why does anyone even sign up for this Hollywood High School bullshit? It’s not like there aren’t other ways to tell stories.”

“Because you CAN do it. You’ve been irreverent everywhere you’ve gone, just don’t change now. You go to Hollywood and you go be the same person you’ve been the whole time. I believe in you, and to be honest, we need this.”

Over the next year, I went to production meetings, sat on set at times, gave alts, and checked for authenticity, but I couldn’t stomach the culture of scripted sitcoms. In our first production meeting, there were about 50 to 60 people gathered in a classroomlike studio setting, with Jake Kasdan, Natch, Lynn Shelton, Melvin, and myself going scene by scene through the script.

Eventually, we got to the macaroni-and-cheese scene. Throughout the book tour, it was my favorite scene to read because it exemplified how foreign white culture was to me. I remember the first time I saw macaroni and cheese, as a guest in my friend Jeff’s home, thinking it was pig intestines cut into half-moons hanging out in an orange sauce. Jeff found it incredulous that I didn’t know what macaroni and cheese was, but it was formative; he got a taste of macaroni and cheese from my eyes, discovering how it felt to be gazed on and seen as exotic instead of being the one gazing. The script took the moment and exploited it for humor as opposed to making it a teaching moment, so I spoke up.

“The setup for the joke in this scene is nonexistent. People need to understand how weird it is for Young Eddie to see macaroni and cheese for the first time.”

“The visual does it for you. Look at the mac ’n’ cheese, it’s disgusting!” said Jake, who put the prop on the table.

“Yeah, it looks like shitty mac ’n’ cheese, then the joke becomes that it’s bad mac ’n’ cheese. The point is that it’s foreign, not bad.”

Melvin got tense; Natch spoke up.

“I know what Eddie’s saying. We’ll address it. There could be more setup.” Within seconds, I got a text from Melvin. “Welcome to pilot season, kid.” Eventually, they just cut the entire scene.

Throughout the process, I kept speaking to Melvin and Natch about context and perspective so that viewers truly understood how diverse Asian America is. My father loved America. He wanted to come, listen to rock ’n’ roll, grow long hair, and cop dome from Jewish women at Penn State. My mom had no choice. She was brought to the country, never really fit in, but never felt less for it. She’s a strong, confident woman who many times felt that America made no sense. What the hell are chicken tenders? Why did people waste napkins at the restaurant? Why do their kids bruise fruit at the store? Frankly, she thought she was better than America because she came from a culture with 5,000 years of experience. I needed that contrast in the show supported by the specific musings and perspectives of Asian-Americans who actually lived this life. We couldn’t represent everyone who lived this life, but for the individuals we did represent, I felt a duty to be accurate.

A few weeks after we taped, Melvin kept blowing up my phone.

“We tested the show, and there may or may not be a handful of butt-hurt white people …”

“Success!”

“Maybe. But listen, white people keep you on the air. They have to feel included. If people understand our perspective, they won’t be offended. So I pitched them an idea. We gotta hold the viewer’s hand through this because they’ve never been inside an Asian-American home before.”

“Yeah?”

“I know you love Wonder Years …”

“Son …”

“I told them that we should do voice-over on the show. It’ll help the audience get into the mind of Young Eddie.”

“YOU GOTTA LET ME GET MY KEVIN ARNOLD ON!”

“Who is pitching this dickhead, you or me?”

“You, Melvin.”

“You’re gonna get your Kevin Arnold on, buddy.”

And for a few months, it went well. The lines were more or less in some acceptable “network Eddie” compromise voice, and when I had issues, they adapted. But everything fell apart after that November voice-over session.

“Listen, I tried to put myself in your shoes after voice-over yesterday,” Melvin said.

“Yeah.”

“I can’t ask you to say ‘America is great.’”

“Thanks, man. You get it, right?”

“Yeah, I do. Like you said, it goes against the essence of the book.”

“Exactly.”

“We’re asking too much of you. I watch you on set, read your emails, and it’s killing you to watch us make this show … Maybe we should have someone else do voice-over?”

I let it marinate for a second.

“You there, buddy?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you think?”

At first, I saw his point. “I mean, I’m sure you can find someone who will actually read what you put in front of him.”

“We don’t need to put you through this. We can go harder next time.”

That’s when I realized what was really going on. It wasn’t that I hated the show. It genuinely entertained me, but it had to do more. A Midsummer Night’s Dream satisfies groundlings and intellectuals alike. Tragedy is easy and comedy’s hard, but we weren’t even trying! My story had become an entertaining but domesticated vehicle to sell dominant culture with Kidz Bop, pot shots, and the emasculated Asian male. I got upset when they dressed Randall 14like a Fung Wah bus driver or Hudson 15like an And-1 yard sale or Constance 16like the Crocodile Hunter with kitty-cat heels. We couldn’t go out like this! If America is ever going to treat its cold sores, its culture will have to force conversations examining freedom, equality, and ASIANS IN GATOR SHOES.

“Naw, fuck that! You’re trying to steal my story. We may never get another chance!”

“Eddie, calm down, man! No one is taking your story from you. They’re not ready for the book. The show is a bridge; it’ll get them there, but it’s still your story!”

“Nah, son. People ARE ready!”

I hung up on Melvin, parked my car, and hit the interwebs via Twitter. “Producers of #FreshOfftheBoat want me to say ‘America is great’ or they’ll replace me. What’s a chink to do?”

Three weeks later, the EPA had announced it was no longer consulting scientists, Ferguson had announced there would be no indictments, and I sat in my massage chair numb to America, getting the gluten kneaded out of my back fat. Everything I saw, from Republicans suing Obama over immigration reform to the script for our second episode, where ODB is appropriated to teach Young Eddie how to make it rain, made absolutelyno sense. 17But in my post-Thanksgiving slumber, I turned on the Michigan–Ohio State game. Since Desmond Howard did the Heisman, I’ve been a Wolverines fan. They’ve been hot trash recently, but I still hold out hope … BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN A PROMO FOR YOUR LIFE STORY IS GOING TO RUN ON ABC DURING THE GAME WHEN YOU ARE TAKING BONG RIPS.

All of a sudden, I screamed, “THERE IT GO!” The Fresh Off the Boat logo flashed across the screen, my TV mom, Constance Wu, going buck-wild in a Taiwanese market, Young Eddie, searching for Lunchables, and Randall Park with the jade pendant, flossin’ just like my pops. THERE WERE REAL ACTORS ON TV TALKING ABOUT THE PITFALLS OF WHITE FOOD!

My friend Rocky was staying at the crib and missed the commercial, so I played it back.

“Ninja, we made it.”

“YOU made it.”

“Nah, son, WE MADE IT.”

“I ain’t never seen anything like this. I don’t know what to say. I knew it was coming, but … son … YOU GOT ASIANS ON TV!”

But I still wasn’t convinced. Everything I ever knew rang in my head: “It’s not enough … You can’t just get on base. We got to come home.” Quickly, I pulled up the pilot episode on my laptop and played it for Rocky. The standard shots were there, the kitchen scenes, banter, banter, banter, but through all the fucking duck sauce and wonton strips, Melvin and Natch did it … They fucking did it. In the black-box TV format, there we were. And after about 19 minutes of shiny suit-bubble goose bounce, there was real talk.

“Get to the back of the line, chink!” said Edgar, the only other person of color at school. It was the most formative moment of my childhood; the first time someone ever called me a chink, held in a two-shot. Two kids of color forced to battle each other at the bottom of America’s totem pole on ABC.

After 18 months of back and forth, I had crossed a threshold and become the audience. I wasn’t the auteur, the writer, the actor, or the source material. I was the viewer, and I finally understood it. This show isn’t about me, nor is it about Asian America. The network won’t take that gamble right now. You can’t flash an ad during THE GAME with some chubby Chinese kid running across the screen talking shit about spaceships and Uncle Chans in 2014 because America has no reference. The only way they could even mention some of the stories in the book was by building a Trojan horse and feeding the pathogenic stereotypes that still define us to a lot of American cyclope. Randall was neutered, Constance was exoticized, and Young Eddie was urbanized so that the viewers got their mise-en-place. People watching these channels have never seen us, and the network’s approach to pacifying them is to say we’re all the same. Sell them pasteurized network television with East Asian faces until they wake up intolerant of their own lactose, and hit ’em with the soy. Baking soya, I got baking soya!

It doesn’t sound like much, but it is. Those three minutes are the holy trinity Melvin, Randall, Constance, Hudson, Forrest, Ian, and I sacrificed everything for. Our parents worked in restaurants, laundromats, and one-hour photo shops thinking it was impossible to have a voice in this country, so they never said a word. We are culturally destitute in America, and this is our ground zero. Network television never offered the epic tale highlighting Asian America’s coming of age; they offered to put orange chicken on TV for 22 minutes a week instead of Salisbury steak … and I’ll eat it; I’ll even thank them, because if you’re high enough, orange chicken ain’t so bad.

But for all the bullshit I heard at studios about universal stories and the cultural pus it perpetuates, I felt some truth in it for those three minutes. It takes a lot of chutzpah to launch a network comedy with a pilot addressing the word chink, yet it works because it’s the safest bet the studio could have made. The feeling of being different is universal because difference makes us universally human in our individual relationships with society. We’re all fucking weirdos. The social contract is here because we have a collective desire to be individuals and preserve our rights to pursue singular happiness with or without cilantro. But we’ve been fixated way too long on universality and the matrix’s pursuit of monoculture. It’s time to embrace difference and speak about it with singularity, idiosyncracy, and infinite density. No more drone strikes, no more Nielsen boxes, no more “we are the world” … if it’s walkin’ dead with a red dot, take the shot.

Chinkstronauts, ride out …

*This is an extended version of an article appears in the January 12, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.