Disney's 'American Born Chinese' Puts a New Spin on the Immigrant Child Experience

Disney's "American Born Chinese"

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is about recognizing the culture, heritage, and contributions of this rich demographic, and cable TV networks are continuing to do their part to celebrate diversity through storytelling and to increase representation on screen. One upcoming show that is already making headlines and that seeks to honor, elevate, and shine a light on this traditionally underrepresented group of people is Disney's "American Born Chinese."

Bringing a Unique Story to the Screen

Based on the graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang (who also works on the show), the coming-of-age series is a multiverse action comedy that deviates from the typical high school storyline by weaving in historical Chinese mythology throughout its plot, including supernatural martial arts practiced by Chinese fighters from ancient folklore. At the same time, audiences watch as the lead character, a second-generation Chinese American boy, struggles to fit in with his peers at a predominantly white school. The show also includes a star-studded cast including Oscar winners Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan.

Why It Matters

Cable TV networks are continually investing efforts in diversifying casts and writers' rooms to ensure that stories are inclusive so that everyone, especially diverse children and adolescents, can find programming that resonates and speaks to them.

  • As "American Born Chinese" Executive Producer Kelvin Yu told CBR.com, "I think a kid going through adolescence issues but also race issues, it might be a lot more complicated and nuanced than it was 20, 30 years ago. That is to our benefit because the stories can be that [much] more interesting and exciting. We don't have to tell that same story over and over again. We can tell some new stories."

Staying True to the Culture

Yang and Yu were deliberate in incorporating the following elements in the series to make the characters and storyline as authentic to the culture as possible:

  • Fight scenes inspired by wuxia (a genre of Chinese fiction that centers around the adventures of martial artists in ancient China), cinematography that portrays a combination of martial arts, spiritual growth, and supernatural abilities.
  • Bilingual dialogue that seamlessly blends English and Chinese languages and the usage of subtitles, with careful preparation by the directors to ensure authentic Mandarin accents.
  • Honest portrayals of Asian family dynamics as they relate to the mental toll of immigration.

The Future of Diverse Storytelling

Yang summed up what it means for audiences to see more Asian representation and diversity on screen, and what might come next:

"We are living in a different world, quantitatively, right now, and yet, I would say that the first phase of diversity is to get more color on the screen, get more faces on the screen. The next phase we are in now is what are you going to do with that platform, now that you are on there? How are you going to make those characters deeper, more interesting, and more human? Now that audiences are watching, you have the opportunity to tell different stories. We are trying to be part of that next wave where the stories are a little bit unexpected, and we are using all the tools in front of us."

"American Born Chinese" debuts on Disney+ on May 24.