Pioneers of Television: Breaking Barriers (Pt. 2)

I finally had a chance to watch the latest episode of Pioneers of Television (online, no less, check it out)! As I discussed in my previous blog, this episode focuses on the presence of race in television and accurate representation of various cultures and people, i.e., “Breaking Barriers.” It’s so difficult for someone of my generation to wrap our minds around a racially divided country as it was in, oh say, the 1960s, although there is progress still to be made in America today. I learned a significant amount from this particular episode and several aspects struck me.

First, I loved the portion with George Takei. He discussed the appalling events of his childhood when he and his family were placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II in the United States following the attacks on Pearl Harbour. This choice by made by the government calls into question “melting pot” attitudes and what Americans are willing to accept as citizens and the definition of freedom. Takei’s positive representation on television in the Star Trek series exemplifies progression in our society and understanding his harrowing past creates a greater appreciation. If you’re interested in this subject, I highly recommend the documentary Topaz from 1945 which was illegally captured inside an internment camp by one of the prisoners, Dave Tatsuno. Here’s a clip featuring segments from the film:

Margaret Cho’s short-lived series All American Girl also calls into question Asian representation on American television. Her series was the first to feature an Asian character in the main role; unfortunately, the spotlight came with certain caveats that were devastating to Cho’s personal life. She explains the producers wanted her to lose a significant amount of weight for the pilot episode which led to a crash diet and eventual kidney failure. This was followed by complaints of her not being “Asian enough” and then “too Asian” when more white actors were placed in the series. Even though the series brought turmoil, Cho was definitely a pioneer of television for Asian actors and her stand-up comedy act today shines even brighter based on these unfortunate experiences.

These two segments only scratch the surface of “Breaking Barriers,” so I encourage you to watch the episode and learn about other pioneers of television from various racial backgrounds! American history has its rocky issues, but I am thankful for those paving the way for minorities, be it racial, sexual, etc. and fighting for accurate representation of those communities.

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