The Fairy Princess has been contentedly watching Sandra Oh win all the awards – and she was very, very happy. Life was good. She attended Royal Family‘s Off Broadway adaptation of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES starring Ali Ewoldt, and life remained good.
However then she took a gander at a open letter written by BEATS Organization, which is founded by and looks to support British East Asians working in theater and film and well…all good things come to an end.
Now, just to give a brief summary of the situation for those NOT in the UK – here’s what – in light of Canada going into it’s 3rd blazing season of the brilliance that is Kim’s Convenience
and American’s historical 5 seasons of FRESH OFF THE BOAT on ABC...
and the tsunami that is Oz’s new fav Family sitcom, The Family Law,
The BBC thought, well, “Let’s get me some of that”, and they commissioned a new show called LIVING WITH THE LAMS, about a British Chinese family that runs a restaurant in Manchester.
“Jolly good, pip pip, what, what!” everyone thinks – the Brits are FINALLY getting it!
Until one realizes that the Production Company behind this show, TWENTY TWENTY, has no British East Asians in any position of power.
Here is the woman leading the charge for representation for British East Asians, Ms. Helen Sodon, Head of Childrens at TWENTY TWENTY Production.
Yassss Hunties, this show is intended for children!
Nah, Kid – it is because they wanna make them…
Let’s be clear – in as much as Children’s programming is geared towards education and cultural understanding – that is an ideal. Does not always happen, and as it seems, it is not happening in this case.
What is happening is that they are taking the Panto to Prime Time, and Asians have not always fared well in this ‘traditional’ British art form. Usually the Asian characters – South, East, West and Central – are played for cheap laughs and stereotypes.
There in fact ARE experienced Children’s TV writers in the UK who are British East Asian, who have a list of show credits – the problem is, Ms. Sodon did not think it was ‘enough’ for her. In fact, of the several writers of British East Asian background that she interviewed, time and again, those writers did not seem to Ms. Sodon to be worthy of writing an amusing children’s television show about their own experiences.
She is the Sodon Gatekeeper!
(Brits will get that one)
Among the cultural crimes listed in THE DAILY MAIL that apparently ABOUND in the script & ‘show bible’ viewed – one scene described made TFP scream bloody murder – the script has – deep breath now Asians – dumplings baked in the oven!
Not just baked, BURNED!
BURNED DUMPLINGS IN THE OVEN!!!!
Look, even the second cousin on your Mother’s side who spends all winter in Aspen skiing and doesn’t cop to being remotely Asian would do a double-take at that.
Dumplings are steamed or fried, people!
Go to Chinatown. Walk around.
Look in a damn window.
Look past the brown ducks.
See those bamboo steamers?
THAT IS ONE OF THE WAYS IN WHICH WE PREP FRIGGIN’ DUMPLINGS YOU SOULESS HEATHENS!
Has no one on this team eaten Chinese food?
The question as to preference is fully asked and answered before ANY dumplings are served to a table!
Y’all didn’t even grab lunch at a Chinese restaurant before writing about a Chinese restaurant?
Other issues cited were scenes where people complain about the stinkiness of their food, people spitting on the floor and ongoing gags such as the Dad playing in a band called “Wok and Roll”.
The joke there being that Chinese people cannot say R’s – that’s for all y’all in the cheap seats trying to figure that out.
The next joke that is not actually Punny, nor is it funny is the name of the restaurant – HAPPY PALACE.
Nothing like ‘reminding’ TV viewers that the common perception of East Asian women in the UK is that they are all sex workers who give ‘happy endings’. Subliminal but there.
Remember- this is for THE CHILDREN!
Now one of the key issues that is dogging this pony show, is that by in large – everyone associated with the creation of the show is Caucasian.
There are intended to be eight episodes written, with 2 of them being written by the only British East Asian writers that are on staff.
According to TFP’s sources, writing staffs can vary wildly – but comedies tend to have more writers than dramas. (That is because no one really trusts ‘the funny’. ‘The funny’ is like Mimi in La Boheme, fickle, delicate and always needing a fainting couch nearby.)
There is also, to be accurate to the East Asian diaspora of the show or lack thereof, a Hapa Producer (Chinese and Irish, just like TFP) coming late to the game, and a “Cultural Consultant” that was added, who later quit. (Although worth noting that they have not taken her name off the pilot script, so they can point to it and say that East Asians were consulted in the writing of this cultural cacophony of cliche.)
The ” Cultural Consultant” felt she was not being listened to (DUMPLINGS ON A BAKING TRAY! SHOES IN THE HOUSE!), so she vamoosed. Rightly so.
No submissive East Asian Woman there! NOPE!
However that leaves the LAMS crying for authenticity with just the two British East Asian writers, who, one surmises, are trying to keep their jobs whilst being railroaded into supporting the show (see what TFP did there) vocally, and the lone Producer.
They are in a rough position. We don’t pay their bills.
BEATS has signed an open letter to the BBC with their complaints, and they would like some changes – to put it mildly. Or if those changes are not made, they would like the show axed. BEATS also would like ONLY British East Asians to write the show.
Since then, it has gotten more heated, with people on the production side citing falsehoods about the Mothership, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat as the reason their show , Dinner with the Lams, does not have a diverse Writers Room.
FOTB, (which began with a 13 episodes order for season 1, and is now between 23-24 episodes per season) is a show created BY People of Color, FOR EVERYONE. Yes, the show is for everyone – just like all the great sitcoms. Where it differs is the stories it tells and where it also differs is finding the humor within a family that has both an American and an Immigrant POV.
Their Showrunner/Creator, Nanatchka Khan, (currently ‘away’ from the show filming a movie), took Chef Eddie Huang‘s memoir about growing up Chinese in Florida during the 1980’s with his Dad running a Texas type steakhouse restaurant, and mined it for comedy gold. The original Executive Producer is Chinese American, Melvin Mar.
Based on a memoir by an Asian American, Produced by an Asian American, and Created by a Persian American – and for those of you following at home, Iran is a country in Western Asia.
Behold the continents and boundaries of Asia – it is VAST and DIVERSE!
Asians of all types coming together to tell a story about an American Taiwanese Family in the 1980’s.
Currently for FOTB, the Writers Room is a staff of 15 people – Six are Asian American, and 7 are Female.
Is the Writer’s Room all Asian? No.
Neither is America.
Their Directors have always been 50% female, which was intentional out of the gate. It was important to both the EP and the Showrunner, and they chose some Female Directors from Directing Initiative Program that was already set in place by ABC prior to this show becoming a reality.
Again, over a third of their writers are Asian, which is phenomenal.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT set a gold standard for television inclusion, which is likely why it is still on the air.
TFP asked Showrunner, Joshua Safran
a few questions about his Writer’s Rooms – he created ABC’s QUANTICO a few years back, which starred Priyanka Chopra.
Most recently he created the show MIXTAPE which will air on NETFLIX.
For QUANTICO, they had 10 writers for 22 episodes, and for MIXTAPE there were 7 writers for 10 episodes. While the gender/race split of writers is dependent completely on the Showrunner, for QUANTICO there were 3 women, 4 straight men, and 5 Writers who identified as Queer. Two of the women were People of Color.
For MIXTAPE, out of the 7 writers, only one was a Straight White Man, and the rest of the room was Diverse, Queer, and/or Female.
“It is important to me to have a room that looks like the Cast of the show. I strive for this. I hate how when I say to a studio, “I want a diverse room”, they say “Great! Here is A Writer”.
I have to always say, “No, I want a diverse room means I want a room where we try for everyone to be a Person of Color, Queer, Female – (For MIXTAPE) I ended up hiring 3 Playwrights who had never staffed before in order to find the inclusion I wanted.“
He went on to explain that part of the issue with the ‘pipeline’ is getting those underrepresented writers Agency representation and/or Managers, because here in the States – and one assumes overseas as well, the traditional path goes – University Writing Program, Spec Script Submissions to Agencies, Agency/Manager Representation, Staffing on a Show.
While he does believe here in the States, things are changing, and that in three years there will be no issue with having varied choices for his Writer’s Rooms, he did have to go beyond what is normally required of a Showrunner in order to get the staff he wanted. He also believes that the Talent Agencies are beginning to actively seek Clients that are more varied now, something that was not happening even five years ago.
Safran looked to non-traditional means to find the writers whose stories would most contribute to the show. Outside the ‘traditional’ TV box.
He looked for people who had been successful writers in other mediums, whose Artistic voices had been noted by the Theatrical Communities who had Agency representation both in New York and on the West Coast, to see if they would be a fit for his show.
He looked and found, for example, the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize Finalist for THE GREAT LEAP, Princeton University’s MacKall Gwinn Hodder Fellow for 2018-2019, and past KILROY List maker, Lauren Yee, who he described as a “Rock Star”, among others.
Ms. Yee, when asked, said she found Mr. Safran’s Writers Room to be ‘A Kind and Warm Room!”.
Wait – an Asian American Writer had a great experience working in television?
In the United States, it is getting better. Slowly but surely.
There are more Creatives and Executives of Asian descent than ever before working to bring you your favorite shows. This is cross pollinating itself – people who have been successful in other parts of the Entertainment landscape, are embracing their ‘star power’ to create new shows or films, and cast them accordingly. Reflecting the American scene to the tenth degree!
Shout out to Actors Daniel Dae Kim and Justin Chon for jumping behind the camera and the table and being committed to telling different tales! Justin is lighting up the Indie Scene and Daniel….
Like, here is the tea on the Writers Room of the ABC hit, THE GOOD DOCTOR– produced by DDK’s Production Company.
Eleven Writers. 8 Men, 3 Women. Of those – 4 People of Color, of those Four, 2 fall under the AAPI designation. 1 of the Male Writers is on the Spectrum, 1 of the Male Writers is a Person with a Disability.
They shot 18 episodes with 14 different Directors and of those 5 were Women, 5 were People of Color. Two of those were Women of Color.
ABC is fully winning because they have invested in under represented talent in front and behind the camera.
As TFP said, American Television has been aware of the issue of inclusion for some time now, and while it is not ‘perfect’, ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX all have Diversity programs that do become a creative pipeline for people who have been traditionally shut out of competing for those positions. The programs make a difference, and they can change people’s lives and the way that they make their living, which in turn, enables opportunity to come for others.
Teresa Huang, who is on the Writing Staff on the CBS Show, SEAL TEAM is one of the people that participated in some of those programs.
After many years as a successful Actor, this MIT Grad was accepted into the CBS Writers Mentoring Program, the CAPE New Writers Fellowship, and the WGA TV Writer’s Access Project, before getting a job as a Writer’s Assistant on four TV Shows before becoming Staff on SEAL Team, where she is one of two writers that would fall under the APPI designation. When discussing the benefits of the programs, she particularly lauded CBS’s program as something that really got her ready to work on a TV staff.
“It’s an incredible feeling to have a seat at the table. Even though I am constantly navigating the room politics of when to speak and when to be silent, being in the room means I have a voice in creating the stories of the show. And you better believe I do my best to make sure we’re no just telling stories through the white male lens.” – Teresa Huang
Asian Americans are ‘thirsty’ for new voices, and as Networks acknowledge it, they are not sticking to the tired trope that just because someone has limited experience or little in writing for television, that they will not have television success.
Look at Kevin Kwan, the novelist.
He penned the breakout summer read, CRAZY RICH ASIANS, which was turned into a screenplay by Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli, which then became the mega successful Rom Com of the Summer. He has now has landed a deal at CBS to co-write and co-produce a multi-camera comedy for Ken Jeong, called THE EMPEROR OF MALIBU. Jeong will play Gerry, a Chinese Tech Billionaire who disapproves of his son’s plan to marry an American woman.
Does he have TV experience?
That would be a NOPE!
He got a Pilot Deal though.
So with all these examples out there, why is the BBC and Twenty Twenty going along on the assumption that they do not really need a gender equal, racially diverse Writing Staff to be on a show about one of the least represented in British Entertainment – aka British East Asians?
Honestly, you would have to really TRY HARD to be this willfully ignorant. Like, it takes far more effort to “white-splain’ all the nuances of your non-reasoning than take a thoughtful measured approach to a show that is supposed to be for the CHILDREN!
If all the Colonies can seem to figure this out, why can’t the UK?
Canada, America, Australia – have all taken the note that if you find projects that have their roots in writings by East Asians, your shows will ring true with comedy and authenticity.
Kim’s Convenience was originally a play written by Korean Canadian Ins Choi.
The Family Law was created by Chinese Aussie, Benjamin Law based on a book he and Marieke Hardy had written about his life – then why does this remain a mystery to be solved by Agatha Christie on the BBC?
As far as TFP can discern, Living With the Lams is based on…nothing.
It is based on an idea to rip off East Asian content from around the Globe that is successful, but with no investment in the talent required for it to succeed. They have not looked at their successful crop of British East Asian Playwrights or Bloggers or Standup Comics for writing talent, they simply barrelled ahead with the assurance that they do, indeed know best.
They would be wrong.
But back to the argument that TWENTY TWENTY is comfortable with – that there just are no qualified British East Asian Television Writers.
How do you know if you are a Television Writer if you have never been given an opportunity to write for television?
Listen, Comediennes Jenny Yang (Late Night Talk Show, BUSY TONIGHT) and Ali Wong (AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE) got their first jobs writing for tv when someone saw their standup acts.
They had never written for television before – but coming from another medium that involves timing and charisma is not going to hurt a script, you know what TFP is saying?
Comic Steve Byrne wrote a television show based on his Hapa upbringing, which is part of his standup and they got SULLIVAN & Son three seasons on TBS.
Which is BASIC CABLE!
You know you are pathetically behind when anything with the title “Basic” is winning for inclusion, and the giant cultural octopus that is the BBC with their period dramas, car shows, and baking meglomaniacs is losing in the court of representation.
A sitcom writes itself with comics, but perhaps it’s the British sense of humor…or lack thereof that turns their executives into a bunch of gatekeeping twits, more intent on preserving racism than alleviating it.
Public school, what? Eh? See you at the Club, Old Man?
TFP would rather watch this squirrel eating an egg roll than hear the crying of the LAMS.
GET THAT SQUIRREL A PILOT DEAL!
Check out these Tweets from Akwafina about her brand new show, kismet really that she tweeted these:
Already this show looks to be a great big hit, and where did it start?
With the Writers.
TFP asked Showrunner and Artistic Visonary, Bryan Fuller for some of his thoughts on where television is finding it’s new voices and what effect that has on the Writer’s Room.
“On American Gods Season 2, Michael and I insisted on having a much more diverse room than either of us have every been in before, and it was fantastic. We took some risks that involved hiring writers with no experience, who showed promise and a point of view because we wanted to give them what any of us needs to truly excel at our craft: experience.
We are going to continue having singular points of view unless we expand our outreach for Minority Writers. Some of the best programs that find Minority Writers and create pathways for them in the Industry are simply unable to reach people who don’t have access to higher end educational opportunities because of socio-economic reasons. Which is why we need to be looking high and low for Creative Voices.”
So everyone is saying it – the Networks, the Creatives, the Actors, the Sponsors – everyone is behind authenticity in the Writer’s Room of a sitcom or drama. It is needed. It is wanted.
America gets it. Canada gets it. Australia gets it.
What say you BBC?
THAT is the exact problem.
Look at the numbers from overseas – they are staggering. They are definitive proof that Diversity = Dollars. Er, pounds.
People are readily available from talent pools that may not be ‘exactly’ what one Blonde lady in Production wants, but they are THERE.
TFP has even shown you quotes from two of the most successful working Show Runners on American television, about what their goals are moving forward with representation and why it is necessary to do the work they love to do.
TFP can even point you towards some names – Lucy Sheen, Daniel York Loh, Anna Chen, Evelyn Mok, Ken Cheng, Phil Wang, Nigel Ng.
Guess how TFP got those names?
The BBC has a duty to the charter that it operates under to represent the best interests of the public, and to handle complaints in a timely manner. The BEATS organization has a petition and an Open Letter to get these complaints heard, but thus far it has been slower than that boat to China.
She hopes you all go and sign it – you do not have to be Asian to understand that being erased from your own stories is the death knell of societal acceptance.
TFP is hopeful that the success of television shows overseas, featuring majority or full Asian descended Casts, with a proportional number of diverse writers will be ‘enough’ for the LAMS – characters who do not see themselves as caricatures – to stop crying.
Because she is pretty sure they are.
LET THEM HAVE THEIR DAMN RESTAURANT WITH DIGNITY AND COMEDY FER F*CKSSAKE YA BOGAN COLONIZERS!
The concept of an inclusive kids show starring British East Asians is a wonderful one – but without help from authentic voices – and we are talking a majority voice – this show is never going to get there, and that would be a pity.
These kinds of things have consequences, especially with children watching. Because they grow up – and they either learn empathy and tolerance and understanding, or they do not.
We have all seen what happens when people do not have empathy.
Walls and Brexit-ing. Robbing people of their rights to exist. Mocking of Parents and Grandparents and Children, lack of empathy ‘helps’ you put kids in cages when you pull them from their parents- when all they did was legally seek asylum.
Lack of empathy leads to attacks on people who are in the LGBTQ community. Lack of empathy kills in higher proportions, Trans people of Color.
Lack of empathy leads to ‘othering’, which leads to bigotry and war and…damn, this is depressing.
You get one chance to get this ‘right’, BBC, you will know soon enough what Mama Ru has to say about it.