The internet erupted in outrage this week when NBC announced the production of a new “comedy” series about mail order brides. We were going to include a link for you to go and sign the Change.org petition to cancel the series (which, at the time of publication, had reached 9,885 of its needed 10,000 signatures), but NBC has already scrapped the idea. Looks like online protest can actually get stuff done sometimes.
The half-hour comedy, titled “Mail Order Family,” would have followed the lives of a of a widower and the mail order bride that he purchases from the Philippines to raise his two preteen daughters. You know, slavery and human trafficking are GREAT themes for a comedy show.
The NBC show would have been written by “Superstore” writer and producer Jackie Clarke and produced by Ruben Fleisher and David Bernad. NBC decided that the show had potential because of its ties to real life: “We purchased the pitch with the understanding that it would tell the creator’s real-life experience of being raised by a strong Filipina stepmother after the loss of her own mother,” NBC said in a statement.
Yet, following great uproar from the Asian-American community and online protest, NBC has decided not to move forward with production. Those protests can largely be tied to online writers and activists, and to the Change.org protest started by GABRIELA USA (an alliance of Filipino women’s advocacy organizations).
The protesters at GABRIELA USA and other activists across the Asian-American community criticized “Mail Order Family” for its normalizing depictions of human trafficking, exploitation, and imperialism.
We have to say that we’d love to see more Filipino and Asian-American women in the entertainment industry, but that DEFINITELY does not mean we want to see them in stereotypical and harmful roles.
Two years ago, when ABC Family stopped production of Alice In Arabia after protests from Muslim advocacy groups, they joined the list of television companies approaching representation from the wrong angle.
Just because activist groups are demanding better representation of minorities on television, doesn’t mean that they’re looking for stereotypical representations. Not every Muslim actor on television should be cast as a terrorist, not every Latin@ actor should depict a drug-dealer, and not every Filipino actor should act a mail-order bride (and on, and on, and on). But, television companies SHOULD make room for minority actors in their shows.
As a culture that consumes so much of our media from television (Netflix binges and television-series marathons alike), the characters and situations that we see on TV determine our expectations for the world. If every Filipino we see on TV plays a mail-order bride, then we’re going to grow to expect every Filipino in real life to be one too. As we like to say, representation determines expectation.
Our media needs more diverse voices and varied stories. Straight white men can’t be the ones telling all of our stories. But when we get stories about more diverse characters, they need to be written tastefully and non-stereotypically. We want to see Black doctors, Muslim teachers, Latin@ activists, LGBT lawyers, women journalists, and everything in between, not the stereotypes our culture has already taught us.
Keep an eye out for shady comedy series’ as shows return this fall. Just because “Mail Order Families” is off the table, doesn’t mean media companies aren’t going to be producing similarly awful shows. Try having conversations with your friends about programs that ARE doing a good job recognizing marginalized groups (we recommend Netflix’s Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Grey’s Anatomy–so many diverse doctors!, and Jane the Virgin, but there are so many more).
After all, representation defines our expectations, so go ahead and raise your standards.