'Fresh Off the Boat' author feared TV version was 'reverse yellowface'
Chef Eddie Huang wrote a memoir titled Fresh Off the Boat in 2013, and now it’s an ABC sitcom about a Taiwanese family’s experience in America—but taking his story from page to screen wasn’t easy, as Huang himself explains in the latest issue of New York magazine. He writes about the obstacles he faced in trying to put an authentic portrayal of his life as an Asian-American on television, including a producer who seemed to want to make, as Huang puts it, “A Chink’s Life … With Free Wonton Soup or Soda: A reverse-yellowface show with universal white stories played out by Chinamen.”
“The network’s approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans resembling moo go gai pan written by a Persian-American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane,” he writes. “My story had become an entertaining but domesticated vehicle to sell dominant culture with Kidz Bop, pot shots, and the emasculated Asian male.”
Despite the network’s attempts to bypass illuminating scenes about cultural differences in favor of shallow jokes, Huang fought—partly thanks to the advice of comedian Margaret Cho—for them to tell it the right way: his way.
“If America is ever going to treat its cold sores,” Huang writes, “its culture will have to force conversations examining freedom, equality, and ASIANS IN GATOR SHOES.”
Read Huang’s full essay over at New York magazine’s website. Fresh Off the Boat premieres Feb. 4 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
Eddie Huang’s memoir adaptation tells the comical adjustments of a Taiwanese-American family settling into the wild ways of ’90s Orlando, Florida.