New NBC Series Makes Light of Human Trafficking and Asian Stereotypes

Move over, Fresh Off the Boat! There’s going to be a new show in town that will diminish all the progressive work you’ve done for Asians.

Deadline announced recently that NBC has picked up a half-hour sitcom called Mail Order Family, a comedy about a widowed single father who orders a mail order bride from the Philippines to help raise his two preteen daughters.

The series is loosely based on comedian Jackie Clarke’s life — which has already been told in an animated webseries and as a story on PBS’s This American Life. Her father had his children look through a catalog for a potential wife to be mailed over from the Philippines. He bought a wife and both lived unhappily together for several years. Clarke’s new stepmother not only rejected her attempts at closeness but also divorced her father after discovering he had a secret family in the Philippines. Eventually, Clarke’s father abandoned his kids to be with his new family in the Philippines as well. And now her story is being turned into a comedy. Funny, right?

There are many, many problems with a show like this being picked up.

For one, with the series listed as a family comedy, it is endorsing the concept of mail order brides and marketing it as a positive characteristic of a “kooky” family. Human trafficking of a woman to be married off to a man she doesn’t know should not be a laughing matter. The unregulated mail order industry and the men purchasing the brides exploit the needs of impoverished women who have very few options in their country for commercial profit. Displaced from their homes as housewives in a completely foreign country, these women have no control over their new lives and no potential for escape. The sad reality of mail order brides’ lives will be brushed off because “hey, we’re a family now, everything is okay, haha.”

Another issue with this concept is that it endorses Asian fetishism. Mail Order Bride companies in Asia encourage the stereotypes of the subservient, docile, and exotic Asian woman who are unaware of feminism. In a series like this, it would play on stereotypes of Asians and we don’t need another show objectifying an Asian woman, especially to be married off sexually to a man she does not know.

This is not a step up for diversity and inclusion for people of color. In a society where Asians are constantly whitewashed or placed in stereotypical situations, NBC should really reconsider picking up a comedy where there is human trafficking of an Asian woman into an unwanted marriage.

Sure, this kind of stuff happens. It happened to Clarke herself, but her story ended up being a depressing one, particularly for her stepmother. Clarke and the writers may try to create the stepmother in this loving and funny situation, but in the end, they are disregarding the real life feelings and problems of mail order brides.

44 thoughts on “New NBC Series Makes Light of Human Trafficking and Asian Stereotypes

  1. These companies have huge marketing and research departments; they’ve got to know that this kind of stuff is ignorant and horrific. It really makes me believe they don’t care and are either getting ratings via controversy, or simply don’t mind being racist and careless.

    1. At the stage that this project was in, it would have only been in the hands of the execs who bought it at the network. Focus groups come
      after the thing is produced. So it was probably some very myopic execs who decided this was a good idea. What this calls into question the most is whether NBC needs new, more diverse talent in their executive pool.. (hint: yes).

  2. You know NOTHING about Jackie Clarke. She is a mother of a baby daughter, 100% against human trafficking, and knows all too well the damage that men ordering MOB s can do.

    Please stop making assumptions based on your own ignorance of who she is and what she has experienced. There are better ways to get attention than slinging mud.

    1. Then as a writer and producer, perhaps she should learn how to better convey her intentions. Because when a show gets picked up with the title “Mail Order Family” — nodding to both the “mail order” attribute of her stepmother being her defining trait, as well as subtextually indicating that it’s part of a history of major network family sitcoms with duck-out-of-water characters who are intended to be the butt of the dysfunctional joke — literally the only thing any thinking person can assume is that it’s gonna be reductive, which usually for Asian American characters means racist. And the prior media available on Jackie Clarke’s comedy that includes mention of Asians is pretty fucking racist.

    2. There is no need for us to know who Jackie Clarke is. Who care if she is a mother? If so, she should know better. Her personal life is completely irrelevant, because that is not taken into account when people see something called “Mail Order Family” and a Filipina woman and the image itself reinforces stereotypes and normalizes the sex trafficking industry. The entire concept makes light of a serious issue. If you know Jackie and you’re her friend, let her know that no one cares who she is. We care about what her damaging actions are doing to Asian-Americans and Filipina women everywhere.

    3. I just listened to Jackie’s This American Life story on this topic. Jackie should probably not be telling this story about an Asian woman’s experience from her white perspective. It just doesn’t work. The radio short is mainly about how her mail-order mother didn’t lover her back when she needed it. Her father is a monster only in how he made his family clean up his mess. It’s extremely tone deaf. I can only imagine what a series about this would be like.

  3. I think a better idea would have been a war bride, women married to military personnel during a time of crisis, would have made for better story telling.

    1. Excellent call, Martin. I appreciate the sincerity of the article and comments but think they lack perspective. Many foreigners will pay for a fake marriage to get a green card. This woman was either paid or got a green card for free, and then supported after she arrived. It’s an objectively better deal than others coming to the United States are getting, others who we feel are exploiting us rather than the other way around.

      I am concerned that she may be deceived in the transaction somehow but unconvinced that she actually was. If “poverty” or “lack of options” is making these women vulnerable, adding one more option does not make them more vulnerable, so long as the option is transparently described. It just creates an opportunity for threads like this to blame Americans for her poverty.

      Comparing this to “sex trafficing” seems like dishonest label-swapping. Was this woman actually a prisoner in the Philippines, or did she sign up for a dating service that did exactly what it claimed? I’m also offended by the transactional nature of the marriage, but I don’t see it’s necessarily similar to trafficing of children or women who will work in the sex industry. If there is something additional shady about the transaction, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think mail order brides on K1 fiancee visas are the same as women who are kidnapped, smuggled into the country, and forced to work in brothels, strip clubs, or porn. It makes me a bit angry you’re being sloppy with the equivalence. seems like trying to get attention for your pet issue dishonestly, at the expense of real victims.

      1. You’re presenting the argument that because mail order brides aren’t literally, physically forced into their arrangement via kidnapping and threat of harm by a direct aggressor, that it’s not a condemnable practice. You’re wrong. There are other ways than physical to be forced into actions you would not choose for yourself if you had full agency. This sitcom would have celebrated one of them.

  4. Hello Laura,

    I work for a Member of Congress who is interested in reaching out to media/bloggers such as yourself regarding this show. I’ve left my personal email address in the email box. Hope you get a chance to chat.

  5. You wouldn’t produce a “sitcom” about slavery (Blacks) or illegal immigration (Hispanics), so how in the name of all that is holy do you think the human trafficking of Asians is appropriate material for one? The call of the almighty dollar.

    1. Actually, I totally bet these same people would buy a comedy on illegal immigration.

  6. It is our job as white people to listen to people of color when they say “Hey this is offensive to my culture” or “Hey this hurts my feelings.” It is not our job to rationalize / defend / and white-splain to people of color why we are justified in creating shows / movies / web series / etc… that are racist and exploitative to their culture. For all the white people who think this is political correctness “winning” again please watch the animated series that prompted the tv show. Tell me that a woman falling out of a box and talking about eating dogs and filing her nails is fine.

  7. Americans can’t bear anything that has a grain of truth about them.

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  9. People get married for many reasons.. People not always honest with their true intentions. You marry who ever you want and any way thats available as long as you treat you partners as a partner for life and be honest.

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