In response to strong protests from the Asian American community, NBC has dropped plans to develop “Mail Order Family,” a sitcom in which a widowed single father orders a mail-order bride from the Philippines to help raise his two preteen daughters.
The comedy was created by “Superstore” writer-producer Jackie Clarke, director-executive producer Ruben Fleischer and executive producer David Bernad, and is loosely based on the experiences of Clarke, whose widowed father mail-ordered a 25-year-old Filipina to be a stepmother for his children, according to The Washington Post.
The announcement, made on Sept. 28, was immediately condemned by civil rights groups, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, which released the following statement on Sept. 30:
“With the recent trend of substantive and meaningful roles on television that explore nuanced perspectives of Asians in America, NBC’s announcement of a new show in production called ‘Mail Order Family’ is a leap backward in the depiction of Asians and Asian Americans on television. As one of the few television shows either on air or in production to feature Asian Americans, it is an outrage that NBC has chosen to address the plight of mail-order brides and human trafficking as a family comedy.
“Instead of a thought-provoking documentary, drama, or real-life program about the exploitative nature of the mail-order bride industry, ‘Mail Order Family’ trivializes the predicament of women who are bought and sold into the sex slave trade or into abusive relationships with men they’ve often never met.
“For over 30 years, Advancing Justice-LA has provided legal assistance to thousands of immigrant women subject to domestic violence, sexual assault or exploitation, servile marriage and human trafficking, including mail-order brides from the Philippines and other Asian nations. For more than two decades, Advancing Justice-AAJC has fought for equitable representation and depictions in the media for Asian Americans.
“As organizations representing the civil and human rights of Asian Americans, we fight to correct the lack of meaningful Asian American representation on television as well as stand against the exploitation of members of our community for entertainment. We condemn television executives for choosing to perpetuate the fetishization and commoditization of Asian women and we demand the cancellation of ‘Mail Order Family.’”
Gabriela USA, an alliance of more than 200 organizations advocating for Filipinas, started a Change.org petition that stated, “Exploitation and violence against Filipino women is not entertainment! The mail order bride industry exploits and trafficks women who are economically disadvantaged and living in poverty… The reason why Filipina women are sought after is because they are seen as subservient and domesticated.”
Clarke responded to the criticism by tweeting that she was “hoping to make the stepmom a fully realized strong activated character” and that the press release did not convey the complexity of the premise.
An NBC spokesperson said in a statement on Sept. 30, “We purchased the pitch with the understanding that it would tell the creator’s real-life experience of being raised by a strong Filipina stepmother after the loss of her own mother. The writer and producers have taken the sensitivity to the initial concept to heart and have chosen not to move forward with the project at this time.”
The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns Southern California, Gabriela Los Angeles, and Migrante Southern California had planned to hold a protest in front of NBC Universal in Universal City on Tuesday, but due to the show’s cancellation, a press conference will be held on Thursday instead.
“We are also trying to arrange a meeting with NBC executives to deliver the petition and to make sure that this does not happen again,” organizers said. “We also want to have a community forum in the next few weeks to continue the dialogue about the issue of representation in the media, and the experiences of migrants and survivors trafficking.
“This was a collective victory! Congratulations and thank you once again to everyone who fought so hard for this! Let’s keep the conversations going …”