Why “Fresh off the Boat” is kind of a big deal

I am so excited about the premiere of Fresh off the Boat tonight. I may only be 3/8ths Burmese, but I’m 100% down for a portrayal of an Asian family. Like as a child I was always a huge fan of shows like My Wife and Kids, The Proud Family, The Family Garcia, or even Ugly Betty- at the time I couldn’t place why I liked them so much more than your standard run of the mill “white people” sitcom and it was because anything that looked moderately diverse, anything that looked moderately like my family was great.

Like- this is my dad’s side of the family (the one with Burmese in it):

I just thought this picture was also relevant to my case.

I have never seen a TV show with as much diversity as every Sunday at my grandma’s house when I was little- straight up. My dream is to pitch a sitcom called “2 or more races” or “other” and what honest to goodness mixed up large families look like. My dad and his brothers and sisters, there were eight of them, so as you can see- there was a lot of opportunity to spread the genes. But that’s not what this article was about- the fact is, I never really had a show where I saw asians.

Yeah, it rocked my world to see Lucy Liu anywhere, especially as Watson in Elementary and Ashly Perez from Buzzfeed video is currently rocking my world, but beyond the prince in the Brandy version of Cinderella being asian(and tbh kinda looking like my dad), I didn’t have a lot to satisfy the 3/8ths part of myself that super proud to say “I’m multiracial so I mark other” when talking about this new standardized test thing in the third grade. So it’s a really big deal that there are like six whole asians with lines and characters with real parts-and I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal but it’s a big deal. You wouldn’t think it, but we still live in a world where people don’t think asians actually have to be played by asians. Blackface was terrible and I’m glad we live in a place where people (generally) know you can’t dress a white person as a black person and just use a little makeup and everyone will just be okay with it because they totally earned the part- but that happens all the time for asians.

Like I know you’re thinking, well it’s not Breakfast at Tiffany’s anymore, people don’t actually do that still.

My sophomore year of high school in auditions for Anything Goes my drama teacher asked if I could read for the characters Ping or Ling in an “Asian Accent”. I straight up didn’t do it and roles went to an asian girl, a white guy, and a black guy.

Two years ago I stage managed a production of The Mikado, and with no asians in the cast, everyone put on white face paint and did “asian makeup”. And TBH I can’t even find that, that amazingly offensive because that’s actually what EVERYONE DOES when they produce that show. It’s a show standard. It’s one of the most popular Gilbert and Sullivans and is done constantly. Here’s an article about a 2014 Seattle production. You can’t argue with people that don’t know they’re doing wrong.

And you might be saying, “Hey, that just sounds like a personal experience”, “Maybe you just live somewhere not quite sensitive to race”- maybe, if it wasn’t just a straight up something that happens all the time.

Let’s talk about Batman- Does the name Ra Al Ghul sound like it would be played by someone as Germany looking as Liam Neeson?

We meet him in Batman Begins surrounded by unnamed asians. And then he sprouts up, and surprise- you thought I’d totally be asian but I was just using all these asians as a mean to an end (wait what?).

And this isn’t an asian part but if you’ve seen the commercials for the movie Pan , Rooney Mara is playing the role of Tiger Lily- there were no native americans, there was no one, there were no people of color, I guess obviously?

Even kind of mediocre, the NBC Peter Pan had a woman of color playing Tiger Lily. And the list keeps going- who knows what was going on with all the race bending in Cloud Atlas, Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia, or the whitewashing travesty that was the live action version of Avatar: the Last Airbender. Not to mention the fact that I’ve seen Avenue Q three times broadway and local and I have never seen Christmas Day played by an asian woman- though I did a google search and I actually see a lot of asian women in that role so my hope in humanity is restored.

So, in a world where people think you don’t have to cast asians to play asian parts, Fresh off the Boat gives hope that maybe asian kids or mixed kids like me will actually see a sitcom and see themselves a little. And maybe if it’s a success, more shows and better casting will follow.


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