The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in coalition with the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, has issued its annual report card for the 2018-19 season, assessing the four major TV networks on their progress toward diversity and the inclusion of Asian Pacific Americans onscreen and behind the camera.
Although ABC and CBS maintained their grades for actors and NBC increased (from C to C+), the coalition, stated a press release by SALDEF, “fears that the unprecedented success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ in the summer of 2018 failed to boost significantly the number of APA-led series on network TV.”
ABC had three pilots in contention that would have starred APAs (first name in the credits), including two that would have featured Asian American families, it said.
NBC, it added, had a pilot about an Asian American magician, and CBS was considering an Asian American family sitcom, including Ken Jeong as a cast member. But none of them made the 2018-19 line-up.
“The efforts put into diversity and inclusion for Asian Americans by ABC and CBS is encouraging and we hope that Fox and NBC will eventually follow in their footsteps,” said SALDEF’s executive director Kiran Kaur Gill. “We also see non-network media such as Netflix making significant efforts to create exciting new programming that has many Asian American in a variety of roles.
With the cancellation of ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the number of APA regulars is expected to fall in the 2020-21 season.
“Since the APAMC began meeting with the networks in 1999,” noted APAMC chair Daniel Mayeda, “We have generally seen an improvement in the various categories (such as actors, unscripted, writers/producers, directors). For example, in the 2002-03 season, onscreen representation of APAs was so bad, we gave two networks Fs in the actors category. As part of the larger Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition — which also includes the NAACP, National Latino Media Council, and American Indians in Film/TV — we pushed the networks to sign memoranda of understanding, create diversity departments, actors showcases, writers and directors programs, and other pipeline programs.”
But progress has plateaued in many cases for the networks, with Fox recording its lowest grade in the actors category (D+) in the past 18 years.
The biggest gains for APAs now seem to be happening in non-network media, including streaming services like Netflix (“Master of None,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” parts 1 and 2, “Ugly Delicious,” “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” “Always Be My Maybe,” “Tigertail,” “Never Have I Ever,” “The Half of It”); Amazon Prime (“Man in the High Castle,” “Warrior”); and Hulu (“PEN15”).
In cable channels, the gains have been seen in Comedy Central (“Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” “Ronny Chieng: International Student”); AMC (“Into the Badlands,” “Killing Eve,” “The Terror: Infamy”); Bravo (“Family Karma”); Disney (“Andi Mack,” “Mira, Royal Detective”); and theatrically-released motion pictures, (“Searching,” “The Farewell,” “Plus One,” “Stuber”).
PBS also aired a multi-part documentary series, “Asian Americans,” May 11-12.