Tonight marks the official debut of Fresh Off the Boat in its regular Tuesday night time slot. Though it did pretty big numbers last week, tonight’s airing is the make-or-break since it’ll be going up against ratings behemoth NCIS — as well as our beloved The Flash. This is why god invented DVRs.
But the Huangs weren’t the only Asian American family to show up on television last week. Over on the Disney Channel, the Callistos made their debut as well with the premiere of the new Disney Junior series Miles From Tomorrowland. And just like FOTB, a precocious Asian American tween is at the center of the show.
This, of course, is on the heels of the animated blockbuster Big Hero 6 — also from Disney and is slated for home video release in a matter of weeks — that also featured a young Asian American male as the protagonist. Bao has already talked about how important it was for his daughter to watch Hiro Hamada and Go Go Tamago on the big screen. The fact that the small screen is now home to more Asian American stories and characters is just as vital.
My 7-1/2 year old daughter now has three faces with which she can identify on screens big and small. I think back to when I was her age and the only Asian American faces were either non-existent or obscured by ninja masks. This is really uncharted territory, folks.
The interesting thing about Miles is that it shares traits of both Big Hero 6 and Fresh Off the Boat, believe it or not. Like BH6, Miles from Tomorrowland is also centered around science and not only hopes to inspire young Asian Americans, but can potentially encourage a whole generation of youth to enter the S.T.E.M. fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The similarities don’t end there. Miles and Hiro are also both hapa and not only are they scientists, but they come from a family of scientists. They also both have adorable non-human companions since the robo-ostrich Merc is clearly positioned to be the Baymax to Miles’ Hiro (and let’s not forget all of the merchandising possibilities). In either case, the fact that both the movie and television show are bringing science to the masses is a point that shouldn’t be undersold.
In fact, Google engineers were a big part of the series’ development and there is hope that the show will inspire children, and especially girls, to become scientists. That’s one of the reasons Miles’ sister Loretta is portrayed as a coding “extraordinaire” on the show. Because even though Asian American tween boys are at the center, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for strong Asian American girls too. Like Go Go in BH6, Loretta Callisto is another Disney character that girls who don’t deal with princesses can identify with and look up to.
Captain Callisto is another twist to typical sci-fi and animated tropes. You see, the head of this family and crew is actually not the white guy in the middle instead. The Captain of the Callisto family is Phoebe — voiced by Olivia Munn. And like Constance Wu’s breakout performance as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat, Munn’s Captain Callisto gives audiences another perspective on Asian American parenting that goes beyond Tiger Mom tropes.
It’s hard to comprehend what media properties like Miles From Tomorrowland, Big Hero 6, and even Fresh Off the Boat means for young Asian Americans. My daughter is already growing up in a media landscape that is way more diverse than anything I could’ve imagined. And coincidentally or not, Disney — that arbiter of all things young and important — has decided to go all in on that diversity.
Say what you will about the House of Mouse and its prickly history with race, but I have to give credit where credit is due. And today, Disney gets props for giving a new generation of Asian American boys heroes to look up to.
Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC. Miles From Tomorrowland airs Friday mornings on Disney Junior. Big Hero 6 is available now on Digital HD and on blu-ray on February 24.