How do you identify yourself? People can identify themselves as an individual or by their ethnicity, gender, or religious affiliation. If it derives from race, then it is more likely a person will include their culture and prioritize their traditional values. However, have you ever thought how American TV shows can develop the identity of an American? After viewers continue watching tv shows which portray patterns of stereotypes, an individual can then raise a perspective toward individuals. According to “The Cultivation of Social Perception of Latinos: A Mental Models Approach”, individuals will then be accumulating opinions and will, therefore, be able to set a certain view toward people of multiple cultures (Mastro 361). While some scholars critique the way shows like Jane the Virgin and Fresh off the Boat appeal to audiences’ preconceived notions of race, shows in this canon challenge stereotypes of immigrants by shifting a lens that all immigrants are unsuccessful, by bringing representation of multiple identities, and by using comedy.
Jane the Virgin is an American dramedy/telenovela series focusing on an all Latina female family middle class. Xiomara, Jane’s mother, and Alba, her grandmother, raise Jane Villanueva, encouraging her to become, “in touch with her American and Venezuelan cultures” (Espinosa 1). The viewers can witness a different cultural pattern through the television series format. Jane the Virgin (JTV) mainstreams elements such as adapting television formats, sparking a trend on attracting a Latino audience, and following cultural value presented in previous shows.
Fresh off the Boat is based on Eddie Huang’s life during the 1990s, where his family is starting to adjust to Orlando, Florida. The Asian-American family embraces the American Dream through obstacles concerning their culture and a new adapting culture. Cassie Hermansson states how his sitcom series format enables the viewers to know “what it was like to grow up as a Chinese American . . . and he writes to resist the ‘model minority myth’ that is imposed on him and other Asian Americans” (Hermansson 246). Eddie Huang, producer of Fresh off the Boat, incorporates his experiences facing racial stereotypes and additional circumstances that were significant for people to view in another perspective the challenges ethnic individuals encounter daily.
Jane the Virgin challenges a develop perception where a Latino community is not able to succeed in a highly rewarding lifestyle. Jane Villanueva is a hard-working, Catholic young Latina who attends college and becomes a published novel writer. Although Jane works as a waitress, which is a common job for Latinas, she manages to attend college and independently pay her school expenses. According to Production Coordinator Caroline Grell’s research, “In addition to waitress roles, other Latinos are depicted in the show as wealthy hotel owners, singers, healthcare workers, professors, scientists, attorneys, telenovela stars, or doctors; this helps break the illusion that Latinos are only capable of obtaining low-status jobs” (Grell 39). Grell, in other words, affirms how JTV (Jane the Virgin) challenges the stereotype of Latinos, limiting themselves to work as janitors, maids, or waitresses. With this illusion breaking, young racial minorities can become empowered and aspire to become professionals in various career fields. On that same note, viewers who think they have a preconceived notion of races can change to believe and accept people’s possibility of following any profession without regarding their ethnicity.
Fresh off the Boat shows another example of how immigrant families encounter complex situations to survive in another country yet manage to overachieve. This American tv show sitcom embodies racial and cultural stereotypes that challenge and represent real based circumstances of families fitting into a new lifestyle. Although the Huang family faces financial and underlying racism when assimilating into a new white-dominated neighborhood, they manage to defend themselves and look forward to positiveness. In Fresh Off the Boat’s Battle with Stereotypes and Sitcoms, Ruthie LaMay mentions, “As the Huangs leave the school Jessica says to her son, “I will never be mad at you for standing up for yourself” (LaMay 2019). This quotation is famous because it indicates how Jessica’s attitude prevents their family from feeling worthless. By Jessica standing up for his son, it also means that Huang’s family bond is more robust, thus showing even though they are in a white-dominated community who approach them differently, the Huangs will not be easily belittled. Representing a voice for others suggests a characteristic of a leader and a meticulous person. Louis Huang’s Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse is an American Western-themed restaurant founded by Louis Huang. Although Jessica did not approve of this business as they were not making any profit, he held to his American Dream and continued finding ways to promote his business to the community. In Fresh Off the Boat wiki, the author states the business status over episodes, mainly focusing on the restaurant. Starting with the first episode of FOTB called Pilot, the restaurant was not successful as less than ten customers would show up. In “Home Sweet Home School,” the restaurant continued achieving a small profit. However, the situation drifted in “Persistent Romeo” when customers started arriving, thus sparking a positive issue of setting up waiting lists (Fresh off the Boat Wiki 2015). The process of developing a business and starting from scratch in a different community has its effects. Still, with Louis’s determination, it proved how this Asian-American family could successfully call the restaurant an accomplishment, also symbolizing fresh beginnings. FOTB once again challenges how immigrant families can make the most out of their lives if purposely setting a plan with consistent determination.
American shows are progressing to include multiple identities and cultures and expanding representation of Americans with various ethnicities, such as in Jane the Virgin. Jane the Virgin became a popular Tv show streaming in Netflix with an average audience rating summary of 4.9 out of 5 stars. The first chapter of Jane the Virgin aired in 2014 but steadily increased its fame for the next two years. According to The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television, Mastro states, “Latinos made up 11% of the U.S population back in 1996; however, after the research rendered results, it turned out that Latinos only made 3% of the TV character representations” (Mastro & Greenberg 2000). This research proves how twenty- four years ago, with a large quantity of Latinos being consumers and participating in watching television, there was a small portion of Latino representation in film. Mastro’s research indicates a starting point proving how Latino representation has been increasing after the year 2000. In Race and Representation on Tv: The Influence of Tv Status on Latino Identities, Gonzales mentions, “This has become their target audience because perhaps this is what an American is seen to be, White and having a moderate to high flow of income” (Gonzalez 2017). With a small percentage of minority depiction in film, Gonzales believes since there is white presentation with high incomes, the viewers should build an understanding of the ideal American image. Gonzalez’s image of an American identity should let readers and viewers think otherwise and stand for multiple cultural representations. In Latinos in Film: Erasure on Screen and Behind the Camera Across 1200 Popular Movies, there is research from graphs stating how the percentage of Latino characters are less than 10 percent over the years from 2007 through 2018 (Lopez 2019).
In Fresh of the Boat, an Asian community is represented by the family whose lives are primarily focused on this sitcom. In this present time, there have been numerous movies and tv shows such as Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh off the Boat, where the central portrayal is of Asians. According to Asian Representation in Hollywood, “The Joy Luck Club, directed by Amy Tan in 1993, held the position of first Asian American movie for 25 years” (Tartan 2019). The Joy Luck Club movie is a powerful first move for the Asian American community because it indicates a realization for the representation of color. In the year of 2018, Asian American representation in films was over the top as the film Bao streamed and later with Crazy Rich Asians, All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and then Always Be My Maybe (Tartan 2019). This thus proves how films can become famous if there is more color representation in media.
Jane the Virgin utilizes comedy to challenge and represent racial stereotypes of people of color. In this American dramedy, there are certain parts of an episode that withdraws a viewer to feel emotional and balances it with comedy. This balance indicates a higher flow of events and circumstances where viewers will comprehend the message in a more manageable format. An example of how this dramedy has used humor to present a message is by tackling an immigration issue with Alba, Jane’s grandmother. In Jane the Virgin Defies Stereotypes, Tackles Immigration Reform, Goldstein states, “Jane always uses typing on the screen as a way to add humor, backstory, and commentary on the action, and during this scene, the text read: “Yes, this really happens. Look it up #immigration reform” (Goldstein 2015). Jessica Goldstein mentions how in episode ten, Alba was hospitalized, and since she is not a legal citizen, she does not have insurance to pay the medical bills, therefore tackling a deportation issue in her case. With this significant issue going on, the narrator intervenes by adding comments and hashtags to supply another perspective on its viewers.
In Fresh Off the Boat, this sitcom enlightens stereotypes through comedy. An essential method for the audience to acknowledge any film is with comedy. Comedy is frequently used so an audience can capture messages and information, especially with a modern viewer who relate anything to a fun concept. Melvin Mar, who is the producer for the ABC comedy series Fresh off the Boat, mentions how along with other producers, they thought of portraying the Loong Duc Dong. According to What’s So Cringeworthy About Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles?, the stereotype Long Duk Dong portrays is “the socially inept mute; the lecherous but sexually inept loser” (Chow 2015). Since it provides comic relief, Melvin Mar decides to imply that stereotype on Fresh off the Boat in order to ensure the audience follows with a realization of the portrayal of stereotype in a humorous form. This stereotype feminizes Asian American men, and for some reason, the audience is to laugh. An additional example happens in an episode named “Driver’s Eddie.” According to See Fresh off the Boat tackle Asian driver stereotype, Louis teaches Eddie how to drive before being assumed he caused a car accident because of his race. Dan Snierson states, “Louis tells Jessica that he forgot about the stereotype and she quickly reminds him that he has mined comedy from it, “it’s okay Louis, we can joke about it. We’re Asian” (Snierson, 2018). This indicates how Jessica decides to intervene in joking about a stereotype because of their race.
Sitcom series such as Jane the Virgin and Fresh off the Boat challenge viewer’s perspective of multiple races by representing both positive and negative sides on the life of individuals, bringing the equal representation of cultures and utilizing comedy to direct messages. Viewers need to understand their culture and respect others; thus, these shows portray some certain situations viewers will comprehend to shift their perspective towards American citizens with diverse ethnic backgrounds.
- “Asian Representation in Hollywood.” The Tartan, 15 Sept. 2019, thetartan.org/2019/9/16/pillbox/asianlens.
- Chow, Kat. “What’s So ‘Cringeworthy’ About Long Duk Dong in ‘Sixteen Candles’?” NPR, NPR, 6 Feb. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/06/384307677/whats-so-cringe-worthy-about-long-duk-dong-in-sixteen-candles.
- Espinosa, Cristine, and Whitney Pisani. ‘Latino Representation in Television Exemplified in Jane the Virgin.’ (2017).
- Center for Media & Social Impact. “How ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ Is Using Humor and Wit to Battle Universal Themes Like Race And Identity.” Medium, The Laughter Effect, 21 Aug. 2018, thelaughtereffect.com/how-fresh-off-the-boat-is-using-humor-and-wit-to-battle-universal-themes-like-race-and-identity-fa2369928a2e.
- Galarza, Litzy. RACE, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY: CONSTRUCTIONS OF LATINIDAD IN JANE THE VIRGIN. 2016, mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/60455/research.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y
- Grell, Caroline. ‘The Fight for Equality: The Role of Latino Stereotypes in Jane the Virgin.’ Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications 8 (2017): 35-43 https://www.elon.edu/docs/e web/academics/communications/research/vol8no1/04_Caroline_Grell.pdf
- “Louis Huang’s Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse.” Fresh off the Boat Wiki, freshofftheboat.fandom.com/wiki/Louis_Huang’s_Cattleman’s_Ranch_Steakhouse.
- (PDF) Latina Girls Speak Out: Stereotypes, Gender and Relationship Dynamics. www.researchgate.net/publication/269285914_Latina_Girls_Speak_Out_Stereotypes_Gender_and_Relationship_Dynamics.
- Pinon, Juan. “Jane the Virgin.” ReVista, revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/jane-virgin
- Productions, Red Summit. “Fresh Off the Boat’s Battle with Stereotypes and Sitcoms.” Medium, Medium, 18 Apr. 2019, medium.com/@RedSummitProductions/fresh-off-the-boats-battle-with-stereotypes-and-sitcoms-9b4299dfc29.
- “Racial Stereotypes in the Media.” Films Media Group, 2008, digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=105099&xtid=37006. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020. Minute 29:38- 30:18.
- Ryan, Maureen. “’Jane the Virgin’ Finds the Comedy in Tragedy, and Vice Versa.” Variety, Variety, 24 Mar. 2018, variety.com/2018/tv/columns/jane-the-virgin-chapter-seventy-eight-xiomara-diagnosis-cancer-rogelio-1202735222/.
- Twitter, Jessica M. Goldstein. “’Jane The Virgin’ Defies Stereotypes, Tackles Immigration Reform.” ThinkProgress, 21 Jan. 2015, thinkprogress.org/jane-the-virgin-defies-stereotypes-tackles-immigration-reform-76300822d7b1/. (Include Mastro 361 citation)