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Screen Wars

‘Fresh Off the Boat’ star Constance Wu on Asians and TV

Kai Ryssdal and Tommy Andres Feb 4, 2015
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Screen Wars

‘Fresh Off the Boat’ star Constance Wu on Asians and TV

Kai Ryssdal and Tommy Andres Feb 4, 2015
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Tonight a new network show premieres that is by all accounts your typical family comedy. It features young, attractive parents raising kids in a new city. But there is one big difference that makes the show stand out. The family at its center is Asian.

More than 20 years ago Margaret Cho’s show “All American Girl” debuted on ABC, and now the network is trying again with “Fresh Off the Boat,” a loose adaptation of celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s best-selling memoir of the same name. It tells the story of Huang’s childhood in Orlando, Florida, after his family moves from Washington, D.C. Constance Wu plays young Eddie’s mother, an immigrant from Taiwan.  

Wu says landing the role was a breath of fresh air for her:

“Usually I’ll be auditioning for the third lead and there will be Latina actresses, Indian actresses, African American actresses because it will be like, ‘let’s check off this box. We have our lead white girl, and we need an ethnic slot.’ And I’ve actually been told, ‘We’ve decided the guy’s best friend is going to be Asian so we needed the girl’s best friend to be black because we couldn’t have two Asians. They want to check off their boxes, which in its own way is a kind of perverted gesture.”

Wu says she’s hoping “Fresh Off the Boat” along with ABC’s other minority-led shows, “Black-ish” and “Cristela,” signify changing tides industrywide:

“All the networks have always been willing to have ethnic people as the third or fourth lead or the best friend to the white person. But to actually let a black family or an Asian family carry a show, that’s something where there hasn’t really been a precedent set in terms of a real financial gain. I think it’s good that they’re trying that, and I think it’s also necessary because the landscape of TV is changing.”

“Fresh Off the Boat” has faced some early criticism for stereotyping, and Eddie Huang recently wrote a piece for Vulture criticizing the show for being an “Asian sitcom for white people.”  But Huang concludes by saying the show is still a positive step forward. Wu agrees:

“I’m really glad it’s happening, and it’s long overdue. There’s a lot of controversy in the Asian community about the fact that, for example, Scarlett Johansson recently was cast in the lead part for “Ghost in the Shell,” which is supposed to be an Asian female lead. And people are like, ‘Well, there is no Asian actor or actress who can carry that.’ And I understand from an investor’s viewpoint that if I want a return on my investment and I have Scarlett Johansson as my lead, I’ll probably get a bigger box office success than a no-name actor. That’s why I think our show, even if it’s not perfect, is important to the Asian community because if we do make money it’ll hopefully start the ball rolling in terms of finding that Asians can carry a show or a movie and be a box office draw, which will encourage investors to take that risk as well.”

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