...AMC moved on to the business at hand: plugging its new period drama series, “Hell on Wheels,” about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the tent city that moved along the railroad as it was being built.
Right off the bat, the press wanted to know why there are no Chinese immigrant characters in the series, given that Chinese labor played a big role in the construction of the cross-country railroad.
More accurately, the question put to the show’s creators, Joe and Tony Gayton, was: “I’m like, ‘Where are the Chinese? . . . I mean, it was a major part of the thing!’ ”
“I predicted this is probably going to be the first question we were going to be asked,” creator Joe Gayton said proudly. “And probably rightfully so,” he added graciously, “because I think what a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants.”
But, he explained, “one of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught [us], and I think that’s probably the reason.”
This cleared things up not at all.
“And just, budget-wise and time-wise . . . we could really only concentrate on one side of [the railroad building], and that’s probably why we, you know, that’s why we chose the [emanating from the East Coast] Union Pacific as opposed to the [emanating from the West Coast] Central Pacific.”
Now clear as mud.
“The genesis of the railroad started in the East,” said Tony Gayton, taking a whack at the question, which, to refresh your memory as we travel further and further down the Gayton Family Rabbit Hole, was, “Why no Chinese characters?”
“It was Abraham Lincoln’s idea, and we’ve likened it to JFK, you know, saying, ‘We are going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade,’ ” Tony Gayton prattled on merrily.
“And it was very similar. So it just seemed a good starting point.”
But, he promised, “The Central Pacific will be a hint in the show. I mean, we will know that they are out there, building.”
“Having said that, we did write the Central Pacific into the pilot,” Joe Gayton jumped back in, sensing the explanation was not going over as well as might be hoped.
“And people asked us if we were insane, if we were trying to get both of the stories — service both of the stories — in a one-hour pilot. So they ended up getting excised.”
And there you have your answer, at long last: The Chinese characters? They got “excised.”
Um, what? I'm particularly struck by how incoherent and inarticulate the show creators were in defending the lack of Chinese characters. Their excuses seem to boil down to: "We're not focusing on the Central Pacific area, which is where the Chinese laborers were primarily used." Which...you know... I'm starting to get tired of seeing that sort of rationalization. You hear it all the time. No diversity in Friends? Well, it's just that that particular crowd of friends was more insular and monochromatic! No Chinese people in Firefly? That makes sense because Chinese people were probably in the center of power and the Serenity crew was more on the fringes! Etc. Considering that the showrunners and producers themselves are the ones choosing the setting, it doesn't exactly absolve them of any responsibility. Or are we supposed to believe that this happens in a vacuum?
Hell, I'm pretty sure the US version of Skins moved their location from Baltimore to some "unnamed Eastern seaboard city" so that they wouldn't have to defend the startling lack of black people.