On the evening of October 8th, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, in collaboration with Hyphen Magazine, hosted Hella Asians on TV. The three-hour, sold out event included an advanced screening of the episode, “The Fall Ball,” from ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, followed by a panel discussion about the shifts and challenges that come with representing the Asian Pacific Islander American community in mainstream media.
In the dimming sunlight overseeing the Civic Center Plaza of San Francisco, the museum slowly came alive as the event kicked off with a happy hour, 45 minutes prior to the doors opening to Samsung Hall for the screening and panel itself. Not a single seat was left empty as Hyphen Editor-in-Chief Michelle Carlton made the introductions to the episode.
The lights went out and the screen flickered to life with the Huang family at it again with their day-to-day shenanigans. Laughter ensued for the next 20 minutes for what was surely an episode that was worth seeing five days ahead of its air date.
The discussion kicked off immediately following the conclusion of the episode with a panel that included comedian Jenny Yang, comedian/performance artist Kristina Wong, and author Jeff Chang. They began by discussing the episode, as Chang noted how the relationship between Louis and Eddie in the episode felt very much like the Season 1 episode, “Persistent Romeo”, when the sex talk is given. Yang found it particularly trippy when a conversation between Jessica and Grandma takes place entirely in Mandarin- subtitles and all- on an American television show.
On the show in general, Wong stated how she’s constantly wowed it’s still on the air, for she’s always scared that it’s suddenly going to go away. As far as the statistics go as to whom is actually tuning in to Fresh Off the Boat, Yang revealed that the largest Asian American viewership is Filipinos. She also noted how there’s a large Black audience for the show as well.
The panel touched on a wide assortment of aspects regarding Fresh Off the Boat; from their worries about how it could turn out wrong prior to the series premiere, to how the actors portray their characters, as well as the controversy surrounding Eddie Huang’s outspokenness on his stance on the show based on his life. They went beyond Fresh Off the Boat and discussed the number of Asian Americans that are on television now, from returning shows like Agents of SHIELD and America’s Best Dance Crew, to new shows like Dr. Ken and Quantico.
While the panel made it evident throughout its discussion – as well as during the Q&A – that it’s wonderful to see an emerging diverse media landscape, they made sure to point out how there’s still more progress that needs to be made. However, the fact that we’re at a point in time where we are finally seeing “hella Asians” on TV – such as the first Asian American family sitcom in 20 years – is a wise direction to go in.
Watch the Panel here: