Warning: spoilers (even though I’m a few months late).
Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from studying for finals, but the “Fresh Off the Boat” pilot nearly had me in tears.
After reading Eddie Huang’s article for The Vulture, which discusses the compromised authenticity of “Fresh Off the Boat,” I was hesitant to watch the tv series based on his eponymous memoir. However, I can gladly say that the “FOTB” pilot episode, as Huang writes in his Vulture article, delivers on its promise to be a more truthful depiction of the Asian American experience.
While watching the pilot episode, I was fully expecting a sunshine and rainbows ending in the cafeteria, in which the Asian kid and the black kid bond over their mutual differences. But, the ending to “FOTB” was so much better than that. It was refreshing to see a harsher reality being portrayed on a national tv series. What’s even better is how the parents, Louis and Jessica, fearlessly stood up for Eddie at the end of the episode. Not only is it a great moment in the pilot comedy-wise, but it is a great moment for minorities in tv.
Firstly, some background on where I’m coming from: I started the 5th grade in a suburb that was about 20-30% Asian American, and more specifically, Korean American. It was obvious to me that race played a huge role in societal interactions among my peer, teachers, and other adults, but I think it’s hard for Asian Americans in more urbanized areas to see exactly what “FOTB” is about because the isolation and culture shock just isn’t there as it is within certain suburban areas of the country. When I started 1st grade, I was the only Asian kid in my school (besides my siblings) and I was also the new kid. Perhaps this is why “FOTB” so effectively resonated with me. Like Eddie, I knew the shame associated with opening my Asian lunches among a table full of Lunchables, and like Eddie, I threw away my home packed lunches sometimes. I even started asking for “white people lunch,” as Eddie does. I know now that it was foolish of me to do so, but the food shame was something that I felt as if no one at the time could relate to. So in that moment of watching “FOTB,” 8 year old me gained a little bit of peace.
What brought home the “FOTB” pilot to me are the pre-fight scene and the Principal’s office scene. Despite Eddie’s internal struggle with fitting in, his realization that fitting in would not actually change the status quo comes to a head when he has to fight the only black kid in the school for a higher spot at the bottom of the totem pole. I think this narrative is often glossed over, and finally seeing it on screen was cathartic. I see so many Asian Americans reject their cultural heritage in pursuit of fitting in and I see segregation within the Asian American communities based on individual treatment of cultural heritage. I understand both sides. I have seen how society views and treats “fobs” and I have seen how society views and treats “white washed” Asian Americans. I have straddled the line my whole life, having to know and having to choose when to be “Asian” and when to be “American.” “FOTB” brings this struggle to a front, and I think it is a struggle that all minorities have faced or do face because we do live on that line.
The Principal’s office scene is what almost brought me to tears. As a kid, I often encountered teachers and adults that ranged from well-meaning but racially insensitive to outright racist. And it’s because of these experiences as a child that I am positive that somewhere there are school administrators and teachers that look the other way when children struggle with the societal consequences of being a minority. “FOTB” makes it clear that the Principal is not necessarily racist, but that his actions, when looked at objectively, are. So when Jessica and Louis threaten to sue the school, they are not really threatening to sue the school- instead they are making it clear that, regardless of whether or not the teachers and administrators of Eddie’s school are racist, their inability to intervene and educate Eddie’s classmates was in and of itself racist.
Before this pilot, I don’t think I felt as deeply and personally about equal representation of minorities in the tv and film industry. “FOTB” has completely changed my perspective on the race issue in Hollywood. Not only should there be more minorities on screen, but there should be more minorities in the writing rooms and director’s chairs. There can never be equal and truthful representations of all races without representation that starts in the writing of tv/movies. I love good stories, and I don’t think that storytelling should be compromised ever, but I have rarely, if ever, felt what I did when I watched the pilot of “FOTB.”
Whether or not “FOTB” is funny has become less important to me than the fact that, as a show, it has the ability to open a discussion about minorities in America- why the Bamboo ceiling exists, why so many minorities are unable to assimilate into American society, etc. I don’t think stereotypes just happen, I don’t think ghetto areas of cities just happen, and I don’t think correlations between gun violence and race is coincidental. Maybe as a series, “Fresh Off the Boat” veers from Eddie Huang’s novel and original intent, but I look forward to reading Huang’s novel and I think the pilot is brilliant.