In February 2011 we called out CBS for its depiction of an Asian character, “Bryce” Lee in it’s upcoming series Two Broke Girls.
After an email conversation between Racebending.com and CBS’s Office
of Diversity and Communications, CBS offered us a DVD screener of the
show to preview and submit feedback. Two Broke Girls premieres on Monday, September 19th.
Our initial concerns about the character of Han/Bryce/Rice Lee (played by Matthew Moy) came from the casting sides,
where Lee can’t wear his pants correctly, can’t speak English properly,
and doesn’t understand the concept of holidays. In the pilot a lot of
these cliched stereotypes have been removed– largely given the role of
Lee in the episode is greatly reduced compared to in the sides.
Even though most of the offensive lines/scenarios are nowhere to be
seen in the first episode, from an Asian American perspective the
character is still a problematic stereotype. “Bryce” Lee plays like a
caricature of failed American Idol contestant William Hung. Perhaps this was deliberate, since Two Broke Girls
has a very 90′s-sitcom aesthetic, but the character is anachronistic.
Because the actor clearly sounds like an American actor attempting to
affect a foriegn accent, and given his emasculated personality and
ignorance about English is played for stereotype-based laughs, it’s hard
to see this character resonating with Asian American viewers at all.
While the character is not as horrifying as initially proposed, our
feeling is the Asian American community will likely still view Bryce Lee
as a regression from the same studio that brings us multidimensional
roles for Asian Americans on shows like Hawaii 5-0.
We do want to applaud CBS for featuring a comedy with two strong
women in lead roles. But in the pilot, minorities seemed to exist to
add, well, color–ranging from Bryce Lee’s broken English, to the lusty
Eastern Europeans, to the black lesbian with poor boundaries, to the
black guy who greets the girls at the door and randomly makes offensive
statements (like a cringe inducing Duke rape joke).
The best characters in comedy are ones that audiences can both laugh at and laugh with. Kat Denning’s role in Girls,
Max, is a perfect example of this. The audience can both laugh at her
circumstances and at her wisecracks. Being laughed at can be
marginalizing and hurtful; being laughed with helps build connection and empathy. (This balance is why CBS’s Big Bang Theory is successful with geek viewers, rather than alienating.)
Historically, minorities have frequently been laughed at, and have
only rarely been laughed with. This is the fear we have with the
character of Bryce Lee. The type of derision many Asian American
immigrants face in their daily lives is not a laugh track. Dispelling
assumptions people have made about you (because of crappy media
representations and stereotypes) is no walk in the park, either.
We really appreciated having the opportunity to preview the show and to
send in our feedback. CBS has made a strong effort to support
diversity, which is why Two Broke Girls feels like such an inconsistent letdown. Because Two Broke Girls is set in Brooklyn, it offers CBS an opportunity to develop a very diverse cast. 65% of Brooklyners are people of color; one out of five are Latino. This is something CBS and the production of Two Broke Girls
can take advantage of, rather than avoid. While it could have been a
lot worse, this characterization of an Asian American is still far from