Caitlin Mayo is a sophomore nursing major.
Take me in your sweet embrace and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. Lie to me and tell me this is real love, tell me you’re going to protect me, that your eyes are for me alone. Colonize me, I whisper to you. Claim that you love me because you need me. Tell me that I’m beautiful because I’m different. I’m not like the others, you tell me. I’m excited to meet you and the kids. I’ll be good to them. You won’t leave me to die in the streets when you’re bored of me, will you, darling? I’m a good deal for that low price you bought me for.
NBC’s recent family sitcom concept, “Mail Order Family,” effectively went backwards in the progress we have made in race and representation several decades, showcasing a lack of cultural sensitivity. The story, loosely based on the family of the writer-producer Jackie Clarke, would have depicted a father mail-ordering a bride from the Philippines to take care of his two preteen daughters. Fortunately, as of Sept. 30, the network has scrapped the concept after being bombarded by heavy social media backlash and petitions urging NBC to drop the show.
Mail-order brides have been legal since 2005 through the regulation of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA). They are drawn into the orbit of the trade for a variety of reasons, such as seeking a way to escape their struggling nations for a better life elsewhere, providing for their families, and finding opportunities unavailable to them.
These women are often fetishized and treated like products. Often, the task of assimilating to their new countries or environments is overwhelmingly distressing, especially with the risk that their arrangements could potentially pull them dangerously close to the sex trafficking industry. Essentially, these women sacrifice their autonomy and control, submitting to the dominance of their sponsors. With the tone the show seems to be taking, it fails to address these issues with respect and sensitivity, painting the mail-order bride concept as a quirky and unique characteristic of the family, the gravity of it swept under the rug with a smile.
It is very unsettling that this show was being marketed as a comedy. There is nothing funny about human trafficking, nor is there anything to laugh at about the struggles of the women that are drawn into the mail-order bride industry, which echoes the reach of the American neo-colonialism that the Philippines continues to struggle against.
There were no reported Filipinos working on the story. Due to how sparse the representation of Filipino stories are in American entertainment, the show was set to be an unfair depiction. Clarke herself did not have a good relationship with her mail-order stepmother, who eventually left the family when it was discovered that the father had a secret family in the Philippines. It is almost certain that the show would have been littered with inaccurate Filipino stereotypes and laughs at the mail-order mother’s struggles. Even if this is Clarke’s personal story, the show would have become one of the only depictions of Filipinos in mainstream American entertainment, standing to reinforce negative stereotypes.
Asian-Americans have traditionally been represented unfairly in entertainment. Under the shadow of colonialism and racism, entire cultures have been largely generalized into the umbrella of “Asian,” completely ignoring each culture’s individualism. This portrayal is inexcusable, especially when other, typically European, waves of immigrants have received much more sensitive, humanizing treatments through classic films and current shows. The entertainment industry is truly Eurocentric in this regard. As Alan Yang, creator of the show “Master of None,” noted, though the population of Italian-Americans and Asian-Americans are equal, the Italian-American community could brag film classics such as “The Godfather” and “Rocky,” essentials to American film history. Asian-Americans have received offensive portrayals, such as “Sixteen Candles’s” Long Duk Dong and the infamous yellowface of Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
If NBC wanted to shine some light on the Filipinos in this country, they should have looked for stories from Filipinos themselves. We should be past the era of stereotyping as cheap comedy. Our struggles aren’t for the amusement of others. However, we as Asian-Americans want to share our stories. We want to stand as equals, as co-stars, supporting actors and A-listers. Most importantly, we want to contribute our ideas and share in the rich narratives woven by this country throughout the ages.
PHOTO CREDIT: Breakfast at Tiffany’s