Fresh Off The Boat shows Hollywood there’s life beyond yellowface

ABCs family sitcom treats stereotypes with ridicule, doesnt shy from controversy and proudly presents life from an Asian American perspective

While Fresh Off the Boat takes place in the mid-90s, the ABC sitcom, which returns on Tuesday, has plenty to say about Asian American identity in the present day. In the second season finale, Eddie Huang wants to see Chris Rocks searing standup special Bring the Pain. Younger brothers Emery and Evan interfere because their mother told him he wasnt allowed. But after days of bickering, they stop fighting to watch the show together.

Months later, while hosting this years Oscars, and after asking whether Hollywood is racist, present-day Rock brought out three Asian children wielding briefcases and introduced them as accountants. That actually happened. To make things even worse, the academy had reportedly known about the skit for months. Yes, Hollywood is racist. So, thankfully, Fresh Off the Boat remains a safe haven for viewers who want to see how Asians and Asian Americans can be depicted without being the butt of the joke.

To understand the importance of Fresh Off the Boat, start with the 2016 Emmys, during which Master of None won outstanding comedy series. Theres 17 million Asian Americans in this country and 17 million Italian Americans, said the shows co-creator Alan Yang. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. Weve got Long Duk Dong. Then, catch up with the recent whitewashing, from Cameron Crowe casting Emma Stone as a woman named Allison Ng, to Scarlett Johansson starring in a live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell, an anime set in Japans dystopian future. More than 13 years after he appeared in the then indie director Justin Lins Better Luck Tomorrow, #StarringJohnCho is still only a fantasy.

For as long as Fresh Off the Boat exists, Hollywood doesnt have an excuse for getting it wrong. The industry frets over how Asian actors cant be bankable stars, but the show has thrived because of how its family the second Asian American family to get a sitcom since 1994s All-American Girl is at the emotional heart of it all. The Huangs may be the only non-white family living in that Orlando, Florida, cul-de-sac, but the show is solely concerned with their perspective. Home truths are presented in an honest and frank way, from the moment that Eddie (Hudson Yang) makes an earnest plea to his mother about his school dinner (I need white people lunch) to when he finally introduces her to his white girlfriend Allison, after being told his whole life to date a Chinese girl.

No one is characterized into neat stereotypes. After Eddies father, Louis (Randall Park), does Donald Duck impressions on a morning talkshow to promote his steakhouse restaurant, Eddies mother, Jessica (Constance Wu), lectures him: You know what it reminded me of? Your favorite character from Sixteen Candles. As Fresh Off the Boat develops, so does our understanding of the familys diverse taste in American culture. During season one, Jessica doesnt understand Eddies idolization of rappers like the Notorious BIG: Why do all your shirts have black men on them? By season two, though, she has a full-on crush on Denzel Washington.

Fresh Off the Boat is about how an Asian American family reckons with their dueling racial identities. This story is about to get even more specific. For this season, the Huangs have traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, for Louiss brothers wedding. In that sense, the premise actually bears a striking resemblance to that of Double Cup Love, Eddie Huangs follow-up to the 2013 memoir that inspired the TV series. The first book was, this is how I felt in America. But who am I in China? he has said. (Huang has actually distanced himself from the show because of how it told a cornstarch version of his story.)

Meanwhile, all three Huang boys are all supposed to be in bed when they watch Bring the Pain. Eight-year-old Evan, the youngest and most obedient sibling, is engrossed because he finds this HBO special as educational as his daytime kids show fare. Im just glad he doesnt do lame Asian jokes, he says. If only Hollywood would do the same.

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