Tuesday, 28 November 2017

An open letter to BBC3, Yennis Cheung, Yuyu Rao, and Shinfei Chen - 'Chinese Burn'

Dear BBC3, Yennis, Yuyu, and Shinfei

You don't know me and I don't know you, but I've just seen 'Chinese Burn' on BBC3 and I felt like writing. It's wonderful to see a sitcom on British telly (ok, it's an internet channel) written by and starring three ethnic Chinese leads, and I mean it when I say 'congratulations!' to you all for taking this great leap forward. I actually see your pilot episode as a beginning of sorts, and for that reason, I would like to make some suggestions for improvement.

1. make future episodes about characters, not stereotypes. So far, all the characters, even the poor Chinese and English blokes who were showcased, are stereotypes. Contrary to what a lot of people think, the best British comedy (like 'Blackadder', 'Fawlty Towers', 'Are You Being Served' and 'Jeeves and Wooster') involves characters, not stereotypes.

2. 'Chinese Burn' is about the immigrant experience. This is not the fault of the three writers, but BBC3, come on, you know better than to say that the British Chinese experience is solely an immigrant experience, or to imply this. What you've done has made me actually shift towards Gok Wan and even Basil Fawlty and the Vicar of Dibley than the three lovely ladies of  'Chinese Burn', even though Gok Wan is a gay, male designer, Basil Fawlty is a weird white man, and the Vicar of Dibley is a white woman who has since slimmed down. I think that says a lot. Change your marketing, BBC3.

3. The interactions between the girls with male characters of every race is pathetic at best and not realistic at worst. The Chinese men are mocked for having small penises, but the white men are feckless and/or loutish. I think if the girls cannot get on with any men for whatever reason, there is a storyline to be explored in making them lesbians.

4. The interactions between the Chinese and non-Chinese characters veer into cliche; I hope this sort of behaviour is confined to London, because it is not true to life where I live.

5.The show needs better male characters of every race, and even better representation of the Chinese experience in Britain by acknowledging that Eurasians, British-born and raised Chinese, and nice, worldly white people exist, especially if future episodes are to be marketed as a truthful representation of the Chinese experience in Britain. If this angle is to be taken, then future characters, and more importantly, writers and reviewers, must include Chinese from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and SEA, but also (quasi-)bananas from Britain, British Eurasians (let's call a spade a spade, why don't we), and British-born and raised Chinese. For this reason, I would suggest collaborating with young performers and writers like Rebecca Boey (@becboey), scriptwriter of the webseries 'Jade Dragon' (hers is more a Eurasian viewpoint than British Chinese), Gok Wan (his viewpoint is more British Chinese than Eurasian), Alexa Chung (she has style), and Chris Chan (@chrischanUK) (you need more young, male, British Chinese writers, and he's a start; I'm sure there are others).

6. the characters are weird and ethnic Chinese, and they admit that they have weird parents who are ethnic Chinese. Them having weird parents who are ethnic Chinese does not mean that all Chinese parents are weird. Based on how one-dimensional the characters are so far, in order to avoid future misunderstanding, I would suggest that the characters' catchphrase 'fuck Chinese parents' should be changed to 'fuck my parents' or 'fuck Jackie's/Elizabeth's parents'.

Anyhoo, break a leg, keep writing, keep thinking about what it is you're doing, and why you're doing it. Yes, most of 'Chinese Burn' is funny, and I wish I could say 'Well done!', but as it is, it does not and cannot represent someone like me, and it should be marketed differently. If I thought it was complete crap, I would have kept quiet about 'Chinese Burn' or said 'Fuck this, it's fucking shite!' (relax, it's not, so people, you should watch it, because it is funny and it's making history!!!!), but I obviously care enough to spend an evening on this blog post, and I hope you will make of it what you will.

Best wishes
B x

[Updated on 2 Jan 2018 to add my comment that Google+ misplaced!]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You make some valid and interesting points, but you cite Fawlty Towers and Are you Being Served? as examples of the best British comedy. AYBS had a stereotype camp/effeminate-gay-man-character many would find offensive. Fawlty Towers had a bumbling Spanish waiter and a central character (Basil Fawlty) who was racist. He was clearly racist towards Germans, and seemed very uncomfortable when treated by a black doctor...The show also had the Major character who described West Indians as "n***ers" and Indians as "w*gs".

Race is a sensitive issue, and in the case of Chinese Burn some people MIGHT be a little too sensitive. It strikes me that the pilot episode was showing some unpleasant attitudes, but not endorsing them. Jackie gets called a racist. Her prejudices are not endorsed or validated. Perhaps if the show is allowed to continue, we might see where this will lead. Yes, flattering portrayals of menfolk were lacking...Once again, perhaps future episodes will address that? 20 odd minutes is a very short time to establish central characters, their world, AND include a humorous story and incidents...

Basil Fawlty, David Brent, the Peep Show guys, the Inbetweeners, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm - all people with quite unlikeable and self-serving traits. Some of them bigoted. Brent makes a joke about "black man's c**k" in an episode of The Office, making his colleagues uncomfortable.

It seems that SOME of the critics of Chinese Burn are people of East Asian descent who dislike that the central characters are deeply flawed. "Internalized racism" has been mentioned. Not allowing Chinese female writers/actors to create and portray characters as flawed as their successful white male comedy counterparts smacks of racism (internalized or not) to me.