NBC cancels horrible ‘Mail Order Family’ sitcom after harsh online backlash
Decent people everywhere can breathe at least a small sigh of relief: NBC is canceling its sitcom Mail Order Family after serious online backlash. In late September, NBC announced the upcoming show about a Filipina mail-order bride who marries into a white American household, because racism and human trafficking are comedy gold. In an outcome that surprised no one except NBC employees, people were not excited about the show, which was in the early stages of development.
Numerous tweets and petitions from sources such as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and the Filipino women’s rights organization Gabriela USA went out almost immediately, urging the cancellation of the show. On the bright side, NBC actually listened, announcing that Mail Order Family wouldn’t be going ahead.
On the less bright side, an official statement from the network explained the decision in the most half-assed “sorry our racism made you mad” way, to the point where it raised questions as to whether NBC understood what the problem was at all: “We purchased the pitch with the understanding that it would tell the creator’s real-life experience of being raised by a strong Filipina stepmother after the loss of her own mother. The writer and producers have taken the sensitivity to the initial concept to heart and have chosen not to move forward with the project at this time.”
I’d actually be interested in a series about “a strong Filipina stepmother,” but this was never going to be that show. And here’s how we know that: YOU CALLED IT MAIL ORDER FAMILY.
Yep, that’s the actual title card. Note how the Filipina stepmother is angrily filing her nails rather than interacting with anyone in the family. A+ cultural sensitivity right there.
As for this “based on a true story” business, the concept for Mail Order Family was inspired by show creator Jackie Clarke’s memories of growing up in a similar household. As she told The Observer back in 2002, “My mom died when I was little. And my dad was in the dating scene for like two seconds and then decided to order my stepmom from a catalog. Yes, from the Philippines.” In the same interview, she also validated the stereotype of white men being the apex of sexual/romantic achievement for Asian women, saying that her father was “there for the women, and you can live like a king over there. He’s middle-aged, Caucasian, attractive, 62 years old. Oh my God, they love him.” There’s no way a show created by someone who says this crap would ever be respectful of Filipina women, or any women of color.
Consider, too, that by trading on the “mail-order bride” stereotype, Mail Order Family would be poking fun at widespread human trafficking and domestic abuse. Most people trafficked into the U.S. are from Southeast Asia, and the vast majority of those victims are women. The mail-order bride industry in particular exchanges money for women who are often economically and sexually exploited. Mail-order brides are also at an extremely high risk of spousal abuse; being socially and linguistically isolated and having to depend on their husbands for citizenship makes it a lot harder to get out of abusive marriages.
While it’s good that NBC is stepping away from the show, we should still be troubled by how close Mail Order Family came to being made; our anger was the only real obstacle. Will the network listen from now on? Or will we have to go through this over and over again?