‘American Born Chinese’ Producers Discuss the ‘Next Phase’ of On-Screen Diversity


In the upcoming Disney+ series “American Born Chinese,” angsty teen Jin retreats to his bedroom, covering his ears and trying to muffle the high-pitched sound of his immigrant parents arguing in Chinese.

“There was a conversation early on, and not in a bad way, about whether or not parents should be happier in their marriage. And we stood our ground,” said creator and executive producer Kelvin Yu. “Of course, they love each other. But they are having a hard time, just like their children are having a hard time.”

While it might seem like an awkward moment, particularly for a family show, Yu said they didn’t want to bury an honest portrayal of an Asian immigrant family. Through the series, which this week announced it will premiere on May 24, the producers hope to amplify the picture of Asian family dynamics, which are often strained due to the mental toll of immigration.

The real and raw relationships in the show, Yu said, are an example of how the various stories are evolving and will continue to expand the emotions and experiences displayed on screen.

“I think we’re in the next phase, which is to make the characters more human,” he said.

The series, based on a 2006 graphic novel of the same name by author and show executive producer Gene Luen Yang, follows Jin as he struggles with the hormonal agony of adolescence. Although Jin, played by Ben Wang, is already preoccupied with making the soccer team, navigating a general social unrest, and dealing with the ways his teenage life clashes with his immigrant family, he is thrown into further chaos when He unknowingly finds himself involved in a battle. of the Chinese mythological gods.

The show has several revealing elements, from the use of traditional Chinese lore to a star-studded cast that includes Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan. But “American Born Chinese” also stands out for its portrayal of the strained relationship between Jin’s parents. Not only are they not united in their views on his son’s life path, with Jin’s mother wanting him to follow his heart and her father encouraging him to navigate safer and more stable waters; your own conflict seems to be particularly stressful.

The producers said they were based on real-life observations of how the pressure of survival and turmoil in the US can affect romantic relationships.

“There are a lot of values ​​that you take from your own upbringing, in your own culture, and you come to a new place, and things don’t line up or make sense the way they do where you come from,” Yu said. . “Suddenly you have to figure out what works and what doesn’t… For me, that was the tension in my family. How do you do that ‘American’ thing?

Both Yu and Yang said that the family show leans toward the melancholy of adolescence for a reason. Making impactful art, they said, is not just about basic representation, but also about complicating the narratives that preceded it. And often times, that means delving into some darker material in a nuanced way.

“If everyone gives you that platform, you better have an offer, you better have something new to say,” Yu said. “So I think that’s what we’re trying to do, and bring some real truth to this family.”

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