Hoai-Tran Bui 「Why 'Kimmy Schmidt's interracial romance is a big deal」

Posted on March 11, 2015

Spoiler alert if you haven’t binge-watched all of 「Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt」 yet!

「Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt」 probably didn’t set out to break barriers when it premiered on Netflix last week, but the show managed to sneak one by us while we weren’t looking.

Near the end of the season, the titular Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) finds herself in a love triangle between a rich, white guy with a vaguely British accent and a Vietnamese immigrant named Dong (yeah we know, just bear with us). But despite her and our expectations, Kimmy doesn’t choose the white guy and ends up with Dong, played by the swoon-worthy Ki Hong Lee. That’s right, we got us a male Asian romantic lead. Here’s why this is a big deal:

There are very few Asian guys as romantic leads on TV
Name one that isn’t John Cho (RIP 「Selfie」). Outside of the martial arts movie genre, male Asian actors are rarely seen in the lead role, much less the romantic lead role. The few that are shown in relationships like 「Lost」’s Jin Kwon are shown to be initially controlling of their Asian wives. In Kimmy Schmidt, Dong transforms from a supporting character to an actually viable love interest to Kimmy, even beating out the smoking hot Logan for her affections. And this in spite of having an unfortunate first name, a broken English accent and an aptitude for math.

Asian guys are usually the asexual comic relief Dong managed to overcome the stereotypes that a lot of Asian male characters get stuck with. Just think Long Duk Dong in 「Sixteen Candles」. And think how that character is exactly the same as the Asian manager in 「2 Broke Girls」. In 30 years, we haven’t gone far from stereotyping Asian men as inspid, asexual, ridiculous characters with really bad teeth. But don’t worry they’re good at math and business so they don’t need a love life anyway.

Even Asian girls on TV are paired with white guys Kimmy Schmidt‘s Lillian (Carol Kane) summed it up pretty accurately as she showed her wallet full of conquests: “For some reason, that Asian fetish thing tends to go one way, white guys and Asian women. But swim upstream, and a lady can clean up. Trust me.” Yeah, it’s kind of a cringeworthy way of putting it, but it’s generally true in TV shows (and movies) too. Just look at Nick’s short-lived girlfriend Kai on 「New Girl」. Or Kira in 「Teen Wolf」. And every movie where Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise end up in Japan for some reason.

It’s not just a gimmick 「Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt」 didn’t give Kimmy an Asian love interest just for representation. For a show that’s about a girl who’s a fish out of water and an outsider, Dong is the perfect foil for Kimmy. And as he points out, they have similar phallic-themed names (Kimmy means you-know-what in Vietnamese, apparently). While their cute frolicking in the Central Park fountain and sharing an enthusiasm for the 「Ghostbusters」 restaurant could be totally innocent, Kimmy and Dong are on more equal footing than the guy who gives her a live dolphin as a present.

And though the season ended with their relationship on the rocks, what with Dong having to get married to Sonya from GED class to avoid deportation, we’re still rooting for these crazy kids.

Author: Hoai-Tran Bui/Date: March 11, 2015/Source: http://entertainthis.usatoday.com/2015/03/11/unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-diversity/

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