Is Lucy Liu the New All-American Girl?

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LucyLiuresized.jpgLast month ABC premiered its new Sex and the City-ish show Cashmere Mafia, starring Lucy Liu as Mia Mason, a high-powered publishing executive in New York City. Not since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl (also ABC) has an Asian American been featured as a main character. But All-American Girl was criticized by some for exploiting stereotypes for laughs, and Cho and network executives argued over just the right formula of “Asian-ness.” After the whole debacle, Cho spiraled into various forms of self-destructiveness, and the show was canceled after one season. That was 1994.

Over the past few decades Asian Americans have been slowly eking their way into casting rooms and onto sets in Hollywood. (Think Lost, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, Entourage, Gilmore Girls, etc.). Exposure is a good thing, but Asian Americans for the most part are still relegated to ancillary roles.

In Cashmere Mafia, Mia isn’t immediately identifiable as the protagonist via voiceovers a la Carrie Bradshaw, but she’s clearly the leader of her pack. And Liu has first billing (plus the most star power out of the cast).

And the show doesn’t ignore Liu’s Asian-ness. In a recent episode, Mia’s mom sets her up with a charming Chinese brain surgeon, Jason (played by Jack Yang)—but the date ends with an awkward handshake. Jason later tells Mia that he doesn’t usually date Chinese women. She confesses that she doesn’t date Chinese men, either, and they both laugh. The interaction isn’t preachy, just a nod to the fact that yes, people do have biases—especially when it comes to dating.

Another noteworthy moment: In the most recent episode, Mia and the brain surgeon exchange a few words in Chinese (probably ad-libbed by the two actors). Cut to Mia’s cohort of stiletto-stalking best friends gossiping (in English) about her new man. Soon we’re forgetting about the Chinese and getting caught up in the rest of the scene.

When it comes to diversifying prime time, this half-serious, half-silly show has the right idea: We don’t need exaggerated stereotypes; we just need to see cultural differences, and then get used to them. I’m staying tuned—if not to see how this trend plays out, then merely because the show is one of my guilty pleasures.

—Joyce Tang

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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