I’m two episodes away from finishing “Master of None” and it has been one of the most refreshing television experiences I’ve ever had.
Sure, some of the acting is stiff. But overall, it’s a groundbreaking show.
Anyone who is a minority gets that, especially Asians.
And if you don’t know by now, I Am Asian.
Another show that I watched last season and have DVR’d this season is “Fresh Off The Boat”. It too has made a huge impact on mainstream television. It too is a show that features Asians as its main characters.
I know there’s always going to be criticism when programs like this air (Americans on the Internet are really good at this, ahem). One, because maybe there are actual flaws in acting, writing, directing, etc. In other words, valid arguments or complaints.
Two, there are all of the counterpoint views, some of them legit, that want to pick a part why a show isn’t doing everything it could or isn’t being sensitive enough to the community who needs it.
The latter is what’s been bothering me.
Both “Master of None” and “Fresh Off The Boat” are based on real life people. However loosely that’s interpreted, someone’s subjective story is being shared.
“Subjective” is the key word.
I actually want to start off by mentioning the movie “Better Luck Tomorrow“. For those of you who’ve never heard of it, BLT was a film that featured an all Asian American cast dealing with everyday high school life. It was distributed by MTV, which was huge at the time.
Back then, I was hanging out with people who were really into films, one of whom ran the Chicago Asian American Film Festival, unique for only showing movies that were made with the “American” part in mind. No foreign films, like all other Asian film festivals include.
So I was more dialed in than the average person. I don’t mean that I had great access or knowledge, just that my interest was piqued because of my social life.
Anyway, the director and cast of “Better Luck Tomorrow” were at the Sundance Film Festival doing a Q&A with critics. One of them asked why they would choose to make the main characters behave so amorally when finally given the opportunity to make a movie for the big screen. Roger Ebert stood up and defended them by saying Asian Americans can tell whatever kind of story they want just like anyone else.
(I watched the clip of this exchange at least three times. It’s important when one of the most well respected film critics of all times defends us. And sure, the irony isn’t lost on me that he was a white man.)
I’ve never watched “The Mindy Project”, but Mindy Kaling has caught flak because her character only dates white men. In an interview where she was asked about this, she responded with irritation by asking if it was up to her to be the UN.
A similar argument is being made about “Master of None”. Why is Dev’s girlfriend white? Why are the girls he’s interested in, white? (Save for the one Asian girl who went out with him for the free food and had only a couple of lines.) He devoted an entire episode about how there can only ever be one minority in a show, never two, otherwise that makes it a “minority show”. So, isn’t he being a hypocrite?
My argument is: No, he’s not. First, the cast of his show is made up of many minorities, including his two close friends (played by a black woman and an Asian guy.) Second, Dev is the minority in his relationship. I’m not sure why it’s up to Ansari to make sure the character of Dev dates people of all colors. If the show is based on his life, that would most likely be inaccurate, as his girlfriend in real life is a white girl.
Should Dev date a variety of minorities because we need to show more interracial relationships that don’t include white people? Or is the critic’s complaint that Ansari is doing a disservice to minorities on the casting side?
The reality for him and for many of us is that we were raised in predominantly white areas. White neighborhoods. White Schools. It’s not that we find white people “hotter” or more “desirable”. It’s all we had to choose from sometimes. Even when presented with other options, are we supposed to filter out all of the white people?
I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like if I’d grown up in California, where people who look like me are everywhere.
But I didn’t. And I sincerely doubt Aziz Ansari was around a crapload of Indian Americans in South Carolina. Perhaps if he had grown up in a large, tight knit group of other Indian Americans, the story he would be telling would be a different one.
Even if your argument is that by not showing Dev dating people of all races it implies he’s racist, that’s also not something that needs to be changed or “fixed”. Is the answer to all race relation problems that everyone should date minorities, especially other minorities but not necessarily someone of the same minority?
Shouldn’t we just date who we want? I guess my point is, if some guy came up to me and said “I don’t date Asian girls”, sure, I’d be offended. But very shortly after, I’d think “cool, I wouldn’t want to date you anyway because you sound like an asshole.”
Is it wrong if most of the guys I’ve dated are white? If I get offered a television show based on my life, do I need to change the ethnicity of the people I dated to non-white just to make sure I’m not reinforcing the belief that “white=hot”?
Also, it’s worth noting that we are still minorities. So by the very definition, there are fewer of us. If dating is math (which it kind of is), the less minorities we come into contact with on a daily basis, the less we’ll have as friends and lovers.
This is where I want to go back to the whole idea of “subjective”. This is one story. Not everyone is going to see themselves in any one character or plot line. But plenty of it may be relatable. And that’s the most important part. I’m just happy to see an Indian American guy playing an Indian American guy living, working and dating in New York. NONE OF THOSE THINGS APPLY TO ME. I am not doing anything he’s doing and yet, it’s still monumental. One of my favorite episodes is “Parents”, which features Ansari’s real life parents, and gives back stories to his and his best friend’s immigrant fathers. My parents aren’t immigrants, but this still meant something to me.
I don’t need fourteen shows about Asian Americans on mainstream t.v. But one or two would be great. I don’t need people to question shows like Seinfeld or Girls so long as there are shows featuring minorities in leading roles. Seriously, they can keep those minority sidekick/best friend/ancillary characters.
Which leads me back to “Fresh Off The Boat”. For those of you watch, you know that Eddie Huang, the story for which the show is based off of and whose book inspired it, is no longer a part of it. He took to Twitter to say he didn’t watch the show and it doesn’t look anything like his life.
He points out that an Indian American woman is directing a show about a Chinese American family.
While it’s true that her life experiences were different, there were also presumably a lot of similarities. This is also true of her audience.
In many ways, it’s enough that the Huangs look like me. My parents don’t speak a second language. I have no surviving grandparents. I’ve never lived in Florida. Culturally, Japanese and Chinese people are NOT the same.
But the show is still great and important and needs to be on the air.
We all need to see that we can relate to anyone at any time because we’re all living a life with identical basic issues, day in and day out. Funny is funny. Sad is sad. Beyond that, we need to be able to share our individual struggles, many of which are created because of the color of our skin. If television is the vehicle for understanding our fellow human more, then there needs to be more balanced representation.
I understand Huang’s issue with the direction his show took. That it feels like a lie. That at best, it’s a very watered down version of his life and that that is doing a disservice to the people watching it. But that’s where I disagree. I don’t need to know Huang’s reality to appreciate Asians on t.v. I wish he could separate himself out of the issue, though I realize that’s a lot, and possibly unfair, to ask of him.
I’m glad there’s been critique on these shows. But at the end of the day, if your issue is with the storytelling, we can’t demand changes be made to reflect our individual realities.
The reason “Master of None” and “Fresh Off The Boat” resonate with me is simply seeing an Asian doing, saying, thinking and feeling things I can relate to and knowing that all audiences might realize we have more in common than they think.