What Disney+’s “American Born Chinese” Adds to the Conversation of Asian Identity and Representation

If there’s anything to be said about media in recent years, it’s that there is a significant growth of Asian representation on our small and big screens. From the groundbreaking multiverse movie “Everything Everywhere All At Once” that swept awards shows, to the action-packed “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” to the adorable Pixar animated film “Turning Red,” and so much more, we are finally seeing ourselves in characters that weren’t written with dehumanizing stereotypes and, for once, taking centerstage as protagonists.

The live-action adaptation, then, of writer and artist Gene Luen Yang‘s highly personal graphic novel “American Born Chinese” couldn’t have come at a better time. Telling a story that explores themes of identity and belonging for a young Chinese American high school student who befriends the son of a Monkey King disguised as a human teenager, “American Born Chinese” which just premiered on Disney+ this week gives a fresh take on racism in the digital age, generational trauma, and the importance of being in touch with your heritage, all while interweaving tales of Chinese folklore and sprinkling in some exciting combat between deities.

american born chinese

But despite it primarily focusing on the Chinese American coming-of-age experience, Yang stresses that it’s a series that can be enjoyed and learned from by anyone who’s ever grown up feeling “other,” no matter where they are in the world.

“The book really is about the Chinese American experience, and so many of us grew up feeling like we didn’t fit in, feeling like we were foreigners, even if we were born here [in the United States], even if our parents had been here for a very long time, or our families had been here for a very long time. But since the book was published in 2006, I’ve gotten to talk to all these different communities about the themes in the book. And what I realized is that feeling of not fitting in, that feeling of being an outsider, almost all of us have gone through that at some point in our lives. So even though it’s a very specific story about the Chinese American experience, our hope is that it touches on something universal,” Yang shared in an exclusive interview with WhenInManila.com.

With all eight episodes now available to stream on Disney+, the adaptation of Yang’s “American Born Chinese” is just the show that the younger generation needs in their search for meaning amid the complexities of their cultural heritage. It does its part in paving the way to more nuanced AAPI stories written and told by those who’ve lived them, brought to life by actors who’ve long deserved to be in the spotlight. As the media landscape continues to evolve and Asian voices are being amplified in the mainstream,

“There’s a sophistication and an elevated conversation that comes with American Born Chinese,” added series producer Melvin Mar. “The conflict all revolves around where you see yourself fitting in in society. It’s not just as simple as ‘people don’t get me’. I think Gene’s book and then later on, [showrunner Kelvin Yu]’s adaptation of it lends itself to a more complicated thought, which is [that] it’s not as simple as your parents’ experience coming to America. What happens when you’re born here and grow?”

He continues, “A really brilliant friend of mine, Min Jin Lee, once said this to me: your parents’ experience in coming to this country is about survival, and you will spend the rest of your life searching for meaning based on their experience. And I think American Born Chinese is the perfect example of that.”

“American Born Chinese” stars Ben Wang as Jin, who tries to learn self-acceptance through his friendship with Wei-Chen, played by Jim Liu, while simultaneously finding himself thrust into a battle between Chinese deities, portrayed by Michelle Yeoh, Daniel Wu, Leonard Wu, Jimmy O. Yang, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and Poppy Liu. Ke Huy Quan also plays a crucial role in the show as a stereotypical Asian character for a fictional 90s sitcom, representing the harmful narratives that AAPI communities, including Jin and Wei-Chen, are having to deal with.

Stream it here.

(ALSO READ: 4 New TV Series To Watch This May 2023 on Disney+)

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