‘Fresh off the Boat’ Made People Uncomfortable Before It Even Aired

The show has been accused of racism, but Eddie Huang says the sitcom isn’t provocative enough.

(Photo: Courtesy ABC)

Feb 4, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

A show called Fresh off the Boat doesn't need a publicity stunt to drum up conversations about race in America; the name alone—a derogatory term aimed at immigrants who have yet to assimilate in a foreign country—does just that.

The ABC sitcom, loosely based on restaurateur Eddie Huang's memoir about growing up in a Taiwanese-Chinese-American family, debuts Wednesday night, but it's already making people uncomfortable by forcing them to acknowledge an often-unheard immigrant perspective. That confusion is most apparent on Twitter, where tweets accusing the show of racism have become the norm.

"Please tell me I'm not the only one who thinks Fresh Off the Boat is an inherently racist premise," one Twitter user complained. He wasn't the only one. Hundreds of other tweets follow the same logic: A show that's named after a racial slur must be racist.

Wung Fu Productions cofounder Philip Wang noticed the trend on Twitter last month and wrote about it in a blog post titled " 'Fresh Off the Boat': Thank You White People for Pointing Out Its Racism."

"While I get where that's coming from, I've seen the pilot episode, and if it's any indication, I can say folks have nothing to worry about," he wrote of the show, which is helmed by Chinese American executive producer Melvin Mar. "If anything, this has the potential to be the most three-dimensional look at an Asian American family from Hollywood since...well, you get the point."

The point Wang is getting at: Fresh off the Boat is the first network sitcom in 21 years to star an Asian American family. The first was Margaret Cho's All American Girl, which debuted on ABC in 1994 and was canceled after 19 episodes.

"Thank you concerned and enlightened white people for calling a show racist without seeing it or really knowing what it is and saving Asian folks like myself from inadvertently embracing something that our community has waited a long time to embrace," Wang wrote on the pop culture blog You Offend Me You Offend My Family.

The irony is that if Huang had his say, the show would be even more true to his memoir—meaning far less politically correct—than it is now. In an essay he published ahead of the show's press tour last month, Huang claimed that producers neutralized his characters to pander to white mainstream audiences.

"People watching these channels have never seen us, and the network's approach to pacifying them is to say we're all the same," wrote Huang, a lawyer turned superstar chef. "If America is ever going to treat its cold sores, its culture will have to force conversations examining freedom, equality, and Asians in gator shoes."

This is exactly what's happening on Twitter in advance of the show's premiere. The discomfort and confusion surrounding Fresh off the Boat's so-called racist title is all the more reason why the show's existence is important. It's forcing a dialogue about the Asian experience, and it's one that the rest of America isn't used to hearing or seeing on television.