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  • Audrey Cleo

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    Good or bad, “Fresh Off the Boat” is important

     

    When “Fresh Off the Boat” premieres tonight on ABC, it will be the first Asian-American family sitcom in 20 years. In 1994, “All-American Girl,” starring Margaret Cho, debuted on the same network and survived a singular season.  Since the show’s cancellation, Cho has been vocal about the network executives’ utter cluelessness and racial tone deafness over her show, from suggesting show names like “Dim Sum, Lose Some” and “Wok on the Wild Side” to passive-aggressive jabs about her appearance. Although, since they passed on the name already, “Dim Sum, Lose Some” might have to be the name of my future memoir; I never like to see a pun go to waste. Unless, of course, it’s terribly racist. I will have to think about this more. Moving on.

    I remember watching Cho’s show as a kid and while my parents found the comedy crass and silly, I saw a glimmer of hope. Yes, the characters were broad and stereotypical, but even though I’m not Korean-American, I thought to myself, “Finally, people who look like me in Hollywood who aren’t just Mr. Miyagi or that one Asian news anchor!” It was normalizing to see myself represented even if in a broad, continental sense.

    And while a lot can happen in 20 years, a lot can not happen. As recently as 2013, audiences were more likely to see an alien or creature of some other fantasy race than an Asian woman. So I think many of us Asian-American pop culture fans have adhered to a “take what we can get philosophy” for awhile now: the emasculated nerd, the I.T. guy, the kung fu master, the seductress who always always wears some version of a cheongsam and red lipstick. As an audience whose underrepresentation has, up until recently, squelched the nuances of our stories and experiences, we have had to take the broad strokes because they’re the only ones available. It’s a hunger reflex of sorts. We’ll take the junk food if it just means getting fed; we’ll take it because it’s there.

    “Fresh Off the Boat” is based on chef/TV host/ex-lawyer/author Eddie Huang’s autobiography of the same name, which, in part, chronicles his early life and his family’s move from Washington, D.C. to predominantly Caucasian Orlando, Florida in the 1990s. In a New York Magazine article that showcased the bombastic, hip-hop-laced swagger that has come to define his brand, Huang – whose parents emigrated from Taiwan –  criticized ABC’s reduction of his story into a “cornstarch sitcom.” After much back-and-forth between Huang and “F.O.B.’s” show runners, he finally comes around, reluctantly accepting of network mandates: “People watching these channels have never seen us, and the network’s approach to pacifying them is to say we’re all the same. Sell them pasteurized network television with East Asian faces until they wake up intolerant of their own lactose, and hit ‘em with the soy. Baking soya, I got baking soya!”

    I get where Huang is coming from, but what he misses, in his initial censure at least, is that most network sitcoms are cornstarchy: basic, reductive and, oftentimes, bland. They go for the cheap, broad laughs, general enough to be appreciated by the widest swath of the viewing population and only specific enough to be inoffensive to that same swath. If one of the fundamentals of comedy is honesty, then a staff of writers and show runners who have first-hand experiences with being the products of immigrant communities are bound to spice up that starch; they add the much-needed flavor, whether it’s Persian or Taiwanese. Huang has clarified his comments since.

    And that flavor, ultimately, is distinctly American. See, what has been so lost in the purview of TV and film made in the good ol’ U-S-of-A is that – aside from Native Americans – all of our stories are immigrant stories. We all came from somewhere, our arrival times different but our destination the same. Those staggered timelines mean that the cultural norms of the “old world” are closer to some of us than they are to others. The immigrant stories, and those of the children who become the hyphenate Americans at the crevasse of old and new worlds, make up the patchwork of American-ness that distinguishes us from every other country in the world.

    Thus, “Fresh Off the Boat” is coming in, loaded with baggage, under a Tiger-Mom-during-SAT-season level of pressure to represent but not offend, to tell a specific story that’s general enough for everyone, to fill up a two-decades-long drought of normalizing an entire population. Its more recent controversy – over a tweet that depicted various immigrant stereotypes through cartoons in ethnic garb – has thrust the show further into the spotlight. But I’m excited that it’s made it this far and is already generating good buzz.

    Of course, the show could still fall flat on its face, descend into caricature, get all up in that cornstarch and roll around in it until there’s no trace of five spice left. But for now, I’ll take it because it’s there, because it’s about damn time.

    “Fresh Off the Boat’s” two-episode premiere airs tonight on ABC, 8:30 & 9:30 p.m.

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    “Celebrity Damage Control” eps about Wesley Snipes and Kiefer Sutherland airing this weekend!

    Deflategate got nothin’ on them! Get in a little pre-big game celebrity scandal fix with me when “Celebrity Damage Control: Wesley Snipes” and “Celebrity Damage Control: Kiefer Sutherland” air this Saturday and Sunday!

    “CDC: Wesley Snipes” airs Saturday, 1/31 @ 9:30 a.m. pacific /12:30 p.m. eastern.

    “CDC: Lil’ Kim” airs Saturday, 1/31 @ 11:30 a.m. pacific/2:30 p.m. eastern.

    Encores:

    “CDC: Wesley Snipes” airs Sunday, 2/1 @ 9:30 a.m. pacific/12:30 p.m. eastern.

    “CDC: Lil’ Kim” airs Sunday, 2/1 @ 10:30 a.m. pacific/1:30 p.m. eastern.

    Per Reelz: “Wesley Snipes is a celebrated and gifted actor with the moves of a martial arts master. But the journey to fame can be a dangerous ego trip, and when he decides he’s even above the law Wesley’s life begins to crumble. He serves nearly three years behind bars for tax evasion.”

    And about Kiefer: “Actor Kiefer Sutherland found stardom quickly and easily as he follows in his famous celebrity parent’s footsteps – but it’s his missteps that get him in trouble. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Kiefer plays movie characters audiences love to hate.”

    New episodes of “Celebrity Damage Control” featuring yours truly coming your way!

    All that glitters is not good. Source.

    Fire up the DVR! New episodes of “Celebrity Damage Control” are coming your way only on Reelz Channel.

    Before she gave birth to dem babies, Mariah Carey birthed a box office bomb called “Glitter.” Catch me weighing in on Mariah Carey’s less-than-glam meltdown on “Celebrity Damage Control: Mariah Carey,” Wednesday, 1/21 @ 7:00 PM Pacific/10:00 PM Eastern.

    Follow that up with my commentary on one of rap’s most prominent females on “Celebrity Damge Control: Lil’ Kim,” Wednesday, 1/21 @ 8:00 PM Pacific/10:00 PM Eastern.

    Encores:

    “CDC: Mariah Carey” airs Sunday, 1/25 @ 9:00 AM Pacific/12:00 PM Eastern.

    “CDC: Lil’ Kim” airs Sunday, 1/25 @ 10:00 AM Pacific/1:00 PM Eastern.

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    Confessions of a Reluctant Exerciser: The reluctant AND sick edition

    I’ve spent the past 72 hours attempting to keep my sinuses from exploding inside of my forehead. I understand this isn’t exactly possible and, in many ways, anatomically inaccurate, but the amount of pressure I’m storing upwards of my nostrils would have you think otherwise. I’m suffering from a hacking cough so violent at times, I tear up and fear that I’ve cracked a rib. It’s not pretty.

    And throughout my attempts at decongesting – the endless hot tea swilling and cough drop sucking – I am lamenting that I can’t go to the gym. Yes, it’s catching me a little off-guard, too.

    While I’ve waxed poetic about the many reasons I love my gym, most of them have little to do with actual exercising. But over the past year or so, though, we’ve gotten into a rhythm, my gym and I. I’ve plotted out which classes at which location fit into my schedule best. I know the sweet spots in time and days of the week when it will be the least populated. I’ve made my routine decidedly reluctant exerciser-friendly and, in turn, it’s become one of my better habits.

    So when a particularly aggressive head cold disrupts this flow, I can already feel the inevitable setback I’ll experience when I am, finally, healthy again: the soreness of my muscles after my first weights session, the unease with which I will stumble through my “welcome back” hip-hop class, how I’ll walk with a dull ache in my calves for two days afterward. The pains of just “getting back into it.”

    Which, of course, means I’ve been very tempted to go. But since at least a few of my symptoms are “below the neck” (chest congestion, cough), apparently I should avoid any exercise that’s more strenuous than online shopping. Cold-sufferers with “above neck” symptoms can engage in mild exercise.

    As a reluctant exerciser, I’m taking my downtime to relish not being able to go to the gym really listen to my body and gauge its needs at the moment. It’s forcing me to be present as I try to heal it, whether it’s through more sleep, various juice concoctions with added ginger or hours of lazy Sunday afternoon football-watching. So, when I’m back in fighting/dancing/surfing shape, I’ll be ready to face my routine with renewed reluctance, yes, but, more importantly, renewed health.

    It’s time to change the conversation about race and the Oscars

    A seemingly prophetic tweet from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences account prior to this morning's Oscar nominations announcement.

    A seemingly prophetic tweet from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Twitter account prior to this morning’s Oscar nominations announcement.

    Early this morning, the 2015 Oscar nominations came out, revealing that Hollywood is still very much a monochromatic playground. Nods for Best Actor? All white. Best Actress? All white. Supporting Actress and Actor? White white white white white. Two exceptions in the major categories: a Best Picture nod for the Martin Luther King, Jr. drama, “Selma,” and a Best Director nomination for Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

    And the outrage came, almost on cue. The Internet was flooded with not undeserved opprobrium over the race factor in this year’s Academy Awards race, much of it in 142 characters or less. Even the Academy seemed to know it was coming.

    But this conversation is starting to sound redundant. It’s starting to sound like an obligatory annual reaction at the shocking (not shocking) news that a lot of white men run a lot of things and that this is a surprise to anyone. This is like going outside and pointing to a tree you don’t like and saying, “I see a tree, and I hate that tree!” Well, so what? The tree – its roots, branches, leaves – is going to be there whether you hate it or not.

    The Academy may have an African-American female president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs appointed in 2013 – probably more widely known today as the “Dick Poop lady” – but it’s still a largely homogeneous organization at last count. Again, this isn’t news to anyone, or at least it shouldn’t be.

    To accuse the Academy of being purposely racist and snubbing diversity is too simple. It’s too easy and whittles down the larger, structural issue about who gets to tell what stories in Hollywood and why into a collective, angry mantra.

    Chris Rock addresses this structural problem with such elegance and pithiness in his essay for The Hollywood Reporter that I will only try to sum it up here: basically, minorities deserve to tell their stories but probably have to find other ways outside of the big studio system to do so. And when it comes to the color that Hollywood really cares about, it’s the color green.

    One of the most maddening things about awards season is that if you strip away the marketing, the campaigning, the political side of who gets nominated and who doesn’t, awards season – in theory – comes down to honoring the best stories told. Or more accurately, the best of the stories deemed important enough to be told in the first place. Because if you get an Oscar nomination, you – and the story you crafted or acted or depicted or shaped – are important. Let’s not even talk about what happens if you win!

    What frustrates me the most about “lack of diversity in Hollywood” conversations  – and I’ve had many on this blog and in real life – is that the question that largely goes unanswered is, “Why is diversity important in the first place?” The “rah rah yay diversity” triumphs are meaningless unless we know why diversity matters at all; otherwise, we’re heralding the response to a question that has yet to be clearly asked. Even worse, we leave open the possibility that diversity only comes as a form of appeasement, to satisfy a politically correct quota. Some would call this “tokenism.” And quite frankly, unless I am in the Academy (I am not), it doesn’t really matter how I feel about who gets nominated or doesn’t; I don’t have a vote. Of course, this only compounds the frustration.

    So, why is diversity important? Because it’s a reflection of the world we live in. Because there are rich, wonderful stories to be mined and told and portrayed by actors of various backgrounds to be appreciated by audiences of various backgrounds. Because minority audiences deserve to be depicted as normal with normal feelings and wants and desires, not just as “types” or caricatures or one-line cracking tokens. Because these stories, too, are important in the same way the stories of an abusive jazz music instructor and a computer genius who cracked the Nazi code are important. And, if we’re going by Hollywood’s standards, because it’s good business.

    Back to the Oscars. I see one of two ways minorities in Hollywood can “fix” the race problem. The first way is for filmmakers and actors of color to disregard the awards show entirely, deem it meaningless and reflective of such narrow taste that whether someone gets nominated or not is inconsequential. You can say the Oscars don’t mean anything, and take their power away. To quote Paul Rudd’s sage character in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “When life gives you lemons, say, “F*** the lemons and bail!””

    This, of course, would never happen, and nor would I want it to. Joaquin Phoenix notwithstanding, no actor or filmmaker or producer – of color or not – will ever go, “Oscar nomination for me? WHATEVER!” And even Joaquin showed up to the Golden Globes.

    The other way is to change the conversation.

    Today, the day of the announcement of the nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards, seems like a good juncture to pivot the conversation of diversity and the Oscars from one of reaction to one of action, from one of “why” to “how”: to not ask why there isn’t more diversity among this year’s nominees, but how filmmakers, screenwriters and actors of color can make the Academy care enough about our stories. Yes, this sounds a little too optimistic – even for my own taste – and a little naive. Like Rock suggests in his essay, diversity isn’t something that just happens because it’s natural and the right thing to include; it needs to be demanded. It needs to be made important. I am not quite sure how that will be accomplished, but I’m not cynical enough (yet) to think that it can’t be.

    I would like to think that Benedict Cumberbatch was nominated for his performance in “The Imitation Game” because it was a beautiful performance. And it was. He is, undeniably, talented. He was also nominated because he had the opportunity to tell the story about a gay British code-cracker who played an integral role in helping to defeat the Nazis in World War II that other people – writers, producers, directors, studio execs – decided was important enough to tell.

    Which isn’t to say David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo were undeserving of nominations as well, but to descend into Twitter-rage over why these fine actors weren’t recognized doesn’t do anything about a problem other than highlight that it’s a problem. We already know that. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

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    Confessions of a Reluctant Exerciser: “Just do it… because you have to.”

    A recent study showed that exercise is changing our DNA and possibly for the better. Which is great, especially for those of us who LOVE working out, which is each and every one of us, right? Of course not. Yes, despite my love for my gym – and I do love my gym but mostly because it has a steam room and eucalyptus-scented towels – I am what I call a Reluctant Exerciser.

    Now this isn’t a title anyone can earn; for example, if you’ve ever willingly run a 5K, you’re pretty much disqualified.

    A Reluctant Exerciser feels that working out is a chore. Nike’s motto? “Just do it.” Hers? “I do it because I have to.” A Reluctant Exerciser has successfully convinced herself that walking into the gym is “light cardio,” an act that deserves a reward of Chili Cheese Fritos. On more than a few weekends, she’s hitting the snooze button instead of the early Saturday morning cardio class. She thinks those “gym selfies” of people taken when they’re using weights machines are weird because how does that even work, and is that even safe!?

    Similar feelings extend to gym attire. Leave the Swarovski crystal-encrusted tops at home; this isn’t junior prom. No, this is something far more dangerous, a war of willpower and (lack of) motivation and, as such, requires an appropriate battle-ready uniform, usually consisting of worn-in track pants and loose, hole-y tank tops. She counts the minutes until her obligatory 30-45 in the gym of doing whatever are up. This is a Reluctant Exerciser; I am she.

    I blame my Reluctant Exerciser status on my stubborn insistence on making exercise boring for myself. This has been going on for the greater majority of my adult working out life.

    In college, my workouts consisted almost exclusively of jumping on a treadmill for 20 minutes and then doing some free weights or crunches on an exercise ball and calling it a day. I pretty much did this workout throughout my entire college career, save for a couple of times when I went running, which only served to reaffirm the fact that I hate running with the fire of a thousand suns.

    With the exception of a few yoga and Pilates classes, I was mostly too intimidated to do anything group fitness-oriented. So, I resigned myself to a repetitive workout that didn’t make me resent the gym as much as be totally bored it.

    It wasn’t until after my college gym days that I discovered I can like working out; it’s just about making it work for me and doing the things I (gasp!) actually like which – surprise, surprise – don’t include running.

    Over the years, I’ve realized that getting out of Reluctant Exerciser mode means making my exercise “routines” anything but. I started by trying a once-a-week Pilates class and then branched out into various versions of barre, interval training, maybe the occasional ViPR session. Eventually, I worked up the courage to try a dance fitness class which was HUGELY intimidating since, up until then, the only dance/choreography experience I’d ever had was a community center class when I was 8. Now I try to take a dance class three times a week.

    At some point between my first major professional gig and my second one, I started surfing, something I had only dabbled in in high school.

    I would still call myself a Reluctant Exerciser. Some weeks, I’m in the gym every day and others, not a single one. The bed still wins out over morning cardio class on occasion. That’s fine. I’ll take a late morning walk with my dog to the park and some coffee instead. And not reluctantly.

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    Catch me on a NEW episode of “Celebrity Damage Control”

    Because Keith Richards. Source.

    Start the new year off right: with some “Celebrity Damage Control“!

    Catch me weighing in on the epic scandal that almost ended the Rolling Stones for good on “Celebrity Damage Control: KEITH RICHARDS,” Wednesday, 1/7 @ 9:30 PM Pacific/Thursday, 1/8 @ 12:30 AM Eastern on Reelz Channel.

    Encore of “Celebrity Damage Control: Keith Richards” airs Sunday, 1/11 @ 9:30 AM Pacific/12:30 PM Eastern.

    Encore of “Celebrity Damage Control: Michael Vick” airs Monday, 1/12 @ 10:30 PM Pacific/ Tuesday, 1/13 @ 1:30 AM Eastern.

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