Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Eddie Huang: Hollywood wants to tell ‘White stories with yellowface

Eddie Huang's memoirs gave birth to the television family, above,  on Fresh Off The Boat
EDDIE HUANG is no shrinking violet.

In an interview with Bill Maher, he didn't mince words when he told Maher what he thought of the TV show "Fresh Off The Boat," which was based on Huang's memoirs of growing up in Orlando, Florida.

"I don't care," if people watch FOtB. 

He's not happy with the way network television has watered down his take on his own life. No matter what, he told Maher, it doesn't matter if its black, white, Latino or Asian, the Hollywood process comes out with the same story from the same white perspective.

The Hollywood creative process almost mandates that programs want "to tell universal White stories with Yellow faces, Black faces, Brown faces, but they tell the same universal story."

Even before the show debuted in February, Huang had been critical of how his story was being interpreted for mainstream audiences. "I don't even recognize my life," he said.

In a New York Magazine essay, Huang called the Asian American executive producer, Melvin Mar, an Uncle Chan. He wrote:
"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."
The celebrity chef said his book of the same name, is darker. He reveals that there was domestic abuse in his family. His grandmother had bound feet, he says.

Welcome to Hollywood, Eddie. Hollywood where unique ideas go to die.

Eddie Huang
The show - as presented  on ABC - was a little disappointing but I was willing to let any criticism slide because ... well ... how many shows on TV feature Asian Americans? Despite being an immigrant Taiwanese American family in Orlando, that unique perspective was not adequately explored. In that respect, Huang was right. Many of the stories could have been told in any ordinary family in a television sitcom. The first episode where a classmate called young Eddie a "chink," and the last episode when the family struggled with its identity, were perhaps the best looks at the immigrant factor of the Huang story.

Despite these imperfections and Huang's dissatisfaction, it cannot be denied that FOtB is still a watershed show. Admittedly, the Asian American audience - hell, let's just say, the American audience, deserves better, but until the networks deliver something better, we need to keep FOtB alive while it sharpens its focus. It is good enough for renewal, but it can be so much better if the writers stop trying to cater to a mass audience.

Ominously, despite having decent ratings in its Tuesday, 8 p.m. time slot, considering the strong competition on other channels, ABC hasn't decided whether the breakthrough show is going to be picked up for a second season.