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we saw wut u did thar, paramount
I'm like, 'Where are the Chinese?'  
6th-Aug-2011 04:39 pm
thelma - 2
So AMC is coming out with a new drama called Hell on Wheels. This particular snippet from a Washington Post article caught my eye...

Somebody’s missing

...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.
7th-Aug-2011 09:46 am (UTC)

As I posted earlier, watch the BBC Documentary The American Future by Simon Schama instead particularly on the segment of the early Chinese migrant workers to America and race in general. That segment alone is far more informative than what you will ever get from a whole American TV series fiction.

What makes Schama's documentary interesting is how he brings up lots of historical facts and cases in his research that shows how the contributions of early Chinese migrants were not only ignored by American society but was almost erased from the history books (railroad companies for example not taking photos and refusing to take photos of Chinese workers upon completion of the railroads, as a way not to commend them for the completion in contrast to white workers) due to racism. It also cites cases of how there were Chinese workers systematically driven out of many towns in California supported by both the press and local government during the era.

There is also some nice commentary points made by Schama that I think truly hits the nail and drives home the point of how certain non-white migrants were treated in the past era compared to white ones. He mentions something along the lines of how America welcomed those from across the Atlantic but not across from the Pacific.

Joe and Tony Gayton's paltry vision and AMC's production is tragically a repeat of that history towards Chinese Americans and is nothing more than an ugly continuation of those institutions' mindset hundred years ago. By being "excised" from the script, it looks like the Chinese workers once more won't have their photos taken.
7th-Aug-2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
They're definitely hidden from history fiction. I only remember seeing them in Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman and This is America Charlie Brown.

I've looked up the Charlie Brown and rewatched it for the first time in 12 years (http://www.megavideo.com/?v=QMAHD8VX), while it does point out how awesome and strong the Chinese workers were, they all wear the exact same outfit, look exactly alike and have lines for eyes :P (I remember the lines for eyes creeping me out as a kid). They don't have any spoken lines, but since 90% of it is Charlie Brown narrating like a report I'll let that slide.
7th-Aug-2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
*and historical
11th-Aug-2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
There was also Jackie Chan Adventures' homage to Blazing Saddles:

"The sheriff's a...railroad worker."

(Having a Chinese protagonist helps.)
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