Controversy Over ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Producer Eddie Huang

 

As the first Asian American family sitcom on a “Big 5″ network TV channel in twenty years, the mere existence of Fresh off the Boat has already classified the show as a leading pioneer for Asian American representation, despite the fact that the first two* does not air until February 4. The excitement over the show has garnered enormous online buzz, and television critics are generally positive about the pilot and the first few episodes they’ve seen.

Then in an unprecedented move, Eddie Huang, an executive producer of the show and the author of the memoir Fresh Off the Boat (which served as the source material for the show), wrote a piece in Vulture saying, “The network tried to turn my memoir into a cornstarch sitcom and me into a mascot  for America. I hated that.”

In the piece, titled “Bamboo-Ceiling TV,” Huang was not shy to write about his conflicts with fellow executive producer Melvin Mar (Huang calls him an “Uncle Chan”) and he even questioned whether it was valid for Persian American Nahnatchka Khan to be the showrunner (he wrote that he was worried the show would become “The Shahs of Cul-de-Sac Holando“). Throughout the piece, Huang detailed his experience with production as well as the many, many conflicts along the way. In the end, Huang concluded:

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.

The day after Huang’s piece was published, he sat with the cast (and his best friends Melvin Mar and Nahnatchka Khan) at the TCA panel to promote the show in front of a bunch of journalists – all of whom had just finished reading “Bamboo-Ceiling TV.”

 

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Immediately, the panel was off to an awkward and jawdropping start as an unnamed journalist said, “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?”

Many TCA critics audibly groaned and instantly tweeted their embarrassment and frustration at the racist comment. And after a beat, the panel on stage laughed it off and made chopsticks jokes. However, while the mood was lightened temporarily, the panel remained uncomfortable and contentious as Eddie Huang’s piece was continually brought up. At one point Huang questioned a reporter’s “reading comprehension skills” after he was asked about his negative comments towards Nahnatchka Khan.

Despite this rough patch, critics remain hopeful. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that Fresh Off the Boat was a show they wanted to see succeed because they believed in it and because Asian American representation is important, especially since there are those out there who believe Asian culture is all about the chopsticks.

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* Note: Originally, the piece mentioned that the pilot airs on Feb 4th. It has been revised to the first two episodes airing on Feb 4th and its regular timeslot will be on Feb 10th.


A Show That Doesn’t Apologize: C3 Screens ‘Fresh Off the Boat’

 

Visual Communications, a non-profit media arts organization, hosted the 4th Conference for Creative Content (C3) on Dec. 6, featuring an exclusive panel for the upcoming TV show Fresh Off the BoatAfter a screening of the pilot episode, Amy Hill (All-American Girl) moderated a panel which included actor Randall Park, Executive Producers Nahnatchka Khan and Melvin Mar, and ABC’s Executive Vice President of Comedy Samie Kim Falvey.

 

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The panel (Photo courtesy of Tammy Tarng)

The pilot takes you back to the era of Shaq, Nas shirts and Lunchables, but don’t let the nostalgia fool you. The main character Eddie, played by Hudson Yang, faces a struggle that is still very relevant today: finding the compromise between standing up for oneself and wanting to be more like everyone else. When Eddie gets rejected from the white kids’ table for having smelly lunch, he gives in and tells his mother that he wants “white people lunch.”

As Khan said, “I think [the show is] all about the specific stories we decide to tell and the different access points for the viewer…the idea of just not fitting in. And also the idea of being in that sort of first generation experience…it’s a very specific point of view, where you know where you come from is so different from where you’re going. And I think it’s almost like you are a scout that like goes out to the world and reports back to your family, and tells them what’s going on. Like Kentucky Fried Chicken to your mother, you know what I mean?” And on the flip side, that observation provides a mirror for Americans watching it to celebrate their traditions as they laugh at them. In that sense, the show translates to something very universally American to the audience.

 

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Randall Park, who plays Eddie Huang’s father Louis (Photo courtesy of Tammy Tarng)

Described by the executive producers as the “little show that could,” Fresh Off the Boat has been receiving positive feedback from the many screenings that have been held so far. Park admits that the entire process — from filming, to the pilot getting picked up, to being on panels such as C3– has left him “mind blown every day.”

And the support of the Asian American community continues to be a critical part of the show’s spirit. Falvey points out,”Having the support of the Asian American community is very important to us, mostly because this is a story from an Asian point of view from an authentic story, and we didn’t want it to be perceived as anything but that.”

The show’s aim is to be one that doesn’t apologize. It’s very specific: mid-90s, Asian family in Orlando with a running theme of hip-hop. “The embracing of that by the audience has been tremendous,” says Khan. “They get it. Even within his own family, Eddie is the black sheep. You know? So there’s so many layers, if you want to start peeling the onion, that is meaningful to people –that people relate to on all different kinds of levels.”

So while the show’s premise (and title) is based off of Eddie Huang’s 2013 memoir, the show’s growth hopes to encapsulate a connection with audiences of varied ages and races through a universal, human understanding and connection.

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The panel and moderator, from left to right: Randall Park, Amy Hill, Nahnatchka Khan, Melvin Mar, Samie Kim Falvey (Photo courtesy of Tammy Tarng)

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ABC had been looking for an immigrant family show for a while.  “We felt like it really was the original American story, and it was not being told.” Falvey explains. Pilots had been shot and different stories explored, but this was the one that clicked. “We knew it would really transcend race and be this love letter to America if executed properly.”

And yet, money talks. A selling point for ABC was the spending power of Asians. At the beginning of C3, Nielsen — a sponsor of the conference –spoke of reasons Asians are a valuable audience. The Asian American community is one of the fastest growing, has a huge amount of buying power, spends more time watching videos than other groups, and has a higher video viewing rate on tablets and mobile phones than other community.

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Hudson Yang, who plays Eddie Huang (Photo courtesy of Tammy Tarng)

As for casting Eddie Huang’s character, the team was “looking for someone who had that swagger,” and found it in young Hudson Yang who sat in the second row of the audience with his father and friend, who also makes an appearance in pilot.

At the end of the day, the show is meant to allow audiences to laugh and identify. As long as Fresh Off the Boat makes you laugh and gives you a sense of culture, connection and family, then it’s done its job.

 

Catch ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat in February!  The pilot will air 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. 

“Fresh Off The Boat” Author is Not Sorry For Controversial Title

It goes without saying that we are all excited for ABC’s new sitcom Fresh Off The Boat. After all, it’s been two decades since we’ve seen a television series focus on an Asian American family.

While our readers generally agree with our excitement, there was one reaction that popped up more than anything else: what is with that title? 

As you can imagine, many people were confused with the controversial title. “Fresh off the boat” has historically been a derogatory term and has been generally used as an insult. Many people have shared their fear that the sitcom will normalize the usage of “F.O.B.” without recognizing the oppression that comes along with the term.

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Eddie Huang, the creator/writer of the Fresh Off The Boat memoir and the co-producer of the show, highly disagrees. The Taiwanese-Chinese American writer claims that he is turning the tables and hopes to create an environment where the phrase is a badge of honor. 

“I would never call myself an American,” he told BuzzFeed. “I’m a Taiwanese-Chinese American. My parents came here in the late ’70s and had me about three years after they’d lived in this country. So I consider myself fresh. You can’t tell me to not consider myself something.”

“There are people in every race who try to speak for everybody and try to legislate what you can think and what you can’t think, with no understanding of what it means to interpret an experience,” he added. “It’s ‘fresh off the boat.’ That’s a term that Asians call each other and we claim it and it’s worn with pride.”

 

He went on to say that the title is a nod to how his family was perceived by others and how they perceived themselves.

Of course Huang recognizes that some may disagree with the title as well as the show’s portrayal of Asian Americans. He simply emphasizes that he is showing his own experience and it’s important for other Asian Americans to go and show their separate experience. After all, we are capable of having different stories.

“It’s not enough for one person to represent us,” he said. “We need many people. People are going to disagree, but, you know what? They gotta make another show.”

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