NBC very quickly cancelled their awful-sounding Mail Order Family show late last week, after the internet let the network know they were not into the idea, not even a little. Before the cancellation, though, Constance Wu— great actress, perpetual crush, and vocal advocate for women and Asian-American actors— shared a quick thought on Twitter.
If the woman is FIRST billed & paid 2X what the male actor makes then I'll be OK w/ Mail-Order Bride comedy, in fact I'll root for her— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) September 30, 2016
She quickly amended the statement to make it clear that she is on the side of the hypothetical Asian actress.
@ConstanceWu I mean I'll root for her anyway. But anyone who thinks this is a ridiculous request oughta look into themselves <3 bc it ain't— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) September 30, 2016
But Twitter wasn’t having it. Some responded with criticism of the project, but even more were angry at Wu herself.
@ConstanceWu are you saying you're totally okay with the exploitation of a culture for the sake of good money?— Rachel Leyco (@babyb3auty) September 30, 2016
@ConstanceWu I wonder if Constance would go to a casting call for this show if promised 2x what the dude would make… 😘👏— Han Huang (@KultureHanHuang) October 1, 2016
@ConstanceWu I hope you got paid to say that. You know, twice as much as a male would for selling us out because that's what's important.— Manila Ryce (@ManilaRyce) October 1, 2016
A lot of these people were attacking Wu for putting money over the ethics of this project. But pay rate and billing in these situation is about more than money; it’s about value. And women and POC aren’t valued in Hollywood the way white leading men are. So while I think the criticism of Wu’s tweet is as valid as her right to state her opinion in the first place, boiling this down to only the money is probably missing her point.
The larger point, then, is about condoning and encouraging this type of project. If the higher value here is on the Asian actress, and therefore, presumably, on her character, we might be able to assume that she would actually be the protagonist, and that this story of a man buying a woman out of a catalogue would be told from that woman’s perspective. That probably wasn’t going to be the case with NBC’s show, but if it were, would that make it better?
While shows that center around white male characters don’t bear the burden of representing their demographic (if they did, we never would have had Breaking Bad or any number of anti-hero shows), there aren’t many— if any— sitcoms out there that focus on the life of an Asian woman. (Even Wu’s own Fresh Off the Boat is an ensemble comedy.) So this show about a female victim of human trafficking would then bear the totally unfair responsibility of being the only show in its genre about that issue.
Best case scenario then— remembering that this was planned to be a network sitcom, not a dark, deeply nuanced cable or streaming show— this show could have drawn attention to the atrocity of human trafficking, telling this woman’s story as honestly as possible in 22 minute comedy bursts, and probably would have aimed to subvert our expectations of what the message here could be.
But in doing that— for that surprise subversion to work— the woman has to end up being treated well, and falling in love, or at least being reasonably happy. And, again, as the only network comedy tackling these issues, it would be utterly damaging to promote the “sometimes it turns out okay” narrative.
So no, even if the female actress and character were highly valued, there doesn’t seem to be any way in which this show could have been a good idea.