In some ways, the bizarre exchange set the tone for the rest of the panel. Another reporter was the first to invoke Huang’s essay, hoping to get a heated response from Khan to Huang’s statement, early in the article, that as a non-Asian she might not have the right POV to run the show: "And why isn’t there a Taiwanese or Chinese person who can write this?," Huang wonders. "I’m sure there’s some angry Korean dude in Hollywood who grew up eating Spam, watching his dad punch his mom in the face, who knows how to use Final Draft."
Huang immediately challenged the reporter’s framing of his piece: “Did you read the entire article?” The reporter said that he had. “That statement was made on about Page 3 and … it’s a 15-page article. People’s opinions change and metamorph and they reach resolutions. I mean, that’s even how TV shows work,” Huang said.
Eventually, Khan responded to the question herself: “When I read his memoir, the specifics were different to my growing up experience, being Persian American and him being Taiwanese American, but what I related to was the immigrant experience of the show, being first generation and having parents who weren’t born here. And that, to me, was my access point. When you take something from the source material that’s such a strong voice and make it into an 8 p.m. family sitcom on broadcast TV, you need a lot of access points.”
Then Park, who was getting over a case of the flu, was asked about the repercussions of his controversial role as Kim Jong-Un in The Interview. “I was never afraid for my personal safety,” he said.
Even the kids, in the very last few minutes of the half-hour, were asked a question that raised eyebrows. “When you’ve gone to auditions,” asked the journalist, “have you ever been asked to ‘play more Asian’?” The kids exchanged glances, clearly unsure what the reporter meant. Forrest Wheeler, who plays middle kid Emery, reacted first, returning to a theme that had come up earlier in the panel—in which Wu had noted that the show, if it succeeded, would give Asians a chance to expand the kinds of characters they could play. Not just “the girlfriend” or “the nerdy tech guy” (a stock part that Park said he’d auditioned for many times).
“Only once,” Wheeler offered. “For a nerdy role.”
The other kids agreed: “Oh, yeah, nerdy roles.”
The answer seemed to satisfy the reporter, and the session came to a close. But the kids later admitted that they had no idea what the woman meant. Chen, who plays youngest Huang son Evan, and Wheeler are relative veterans, with dozens of screen and commercial credits. My son Hudson has only auditioned a handful of times—“This is my first big role,” he made clear, prompting a round of laughter—and the only “nerdy” role he’s ever been sent by his agents to read for was the part of a gangly, bespectacled Jewish kid named “Ari.” (He didn’t book it.)