In Defense of ‘All-American Girl’

<i> Gary Jacobs is creator and executive producer of "All</i> -<i> American Girl." The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of Disney or anyone else associated with the show</i>

I am writing in response to K. Connie Kang’s March 11 article in the Calendar section, “ ‘Girl’ Undergoes Major Changes Amid Criticism.” As the creator and executive producer of “All-American Girl,” I would like to address some of the criticisms leveled at the show.

The cast portraying the Kim family is not entirely Korean American. Correct. But they are all Asian American, considered by most a breakthrough in network television. Had the criteria been that all actors portraying the Kims be Korean American, there would be no show. By the way, was the cast of “The Joy Luck Club” entirely Chinese?

There weren’t enough Asian writers on the show. In fact, there were three Asian American writers, one of them Korean American (Kang was wrong about this). I can also tell you in assembling the staff, we made a point of soliciting and reading submissions from Asian American writers.


When Korean is spoken, it is poorly done. The accents are unrealistic. The set dressing is not entirely Korean but generic Asian. Etc. Every effort was made to make the show as realistic as possible. We employed a Korean American consultant, an expert in the Korean language and culture, for specifically this purpose. It was his job to review every script and every episode and let us know where we erred, and this he did unfailingly. He worked with our fine cast on their Korean as well as their English accents. If they fell short of some people’s expectations, I assure you, it was not for lack of caring or effort.

“All-American Girl” does not accurately portray the Korean American experience. This is one of the most frequently voiced criticisms and one of the most infuriating. It implies there is one, absolute, all-encompassing Korean American experience, which, by definition, is a stereotype itself. Meanwhile, I can’t count the number of Asian Americans who have told me how much they relate to “All-American Girl.” And there’s one thing nobody can dispute--the show certainly reflects Margaret Cho’s experience. When I pointed this out to one Korean American journalist, she replied, “Well, perhaps you built the show around the wrong person. Perhaps you should have found someone more representative of the Korean American experience.”

Nevermind that there would be no show without Margaret, this line of thinking suggests that this woman’s experience is somehow more valid than Margaret’s. Political correctness is a no-win game.


Not until paragraph 17 does Kang grant that “All-American Girl” has at least a few fans among the Asian American community. Has Kang ever heard of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans? MANAA describes itself as “the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring all facets of the media--television, motion pictures, print, advertising, radio, etc.--and advocating balanced, sensitive and positive coverage and portrayals of Asian Americans,” which is why I was so proud that Margaret and I were recipients of the 1994 MANAA Media Achievement Awards.

I created “All-American Girl” because I like Margaret and because I thought there was an interesting issue to be explored--a young, second-generation Asian American woman must balance her desire to assimilate with her family’s (especially her mother’s) desire for her to maintain her cultural heritage. On a more primal and universal level, I saw the show as a young woman’s struggle to establish her identity and find her way in the world. I was also intrigued, in this time of single-parent and dysfunctional families, to depict an intact, loving, multi-generational family.

But more than anything, I created “All-American Girl” to bring to television faces that for too long have been excluded. Our researcher tells me that more than 20 million people watch “All-American Girl” every week. My hope has always been that among those viewers who have never been exposed to Asian Americans or who have preconceived or stereotypical notions of Asian Americans, that at least some have come to find the Kims funny and warm and loving people, not so very different from themselves.

In a time when politicians build national reputations on the back of immigrant-bashing, I would suggest that those of us who still believe in the melting pot should stop sniping at one another. The enemy is not questionable accents and set dressing.