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American Born Chinese: The Controversial Book Character We Don't See On The Show

When it comes to TV series adaptation of graphic novels, changes are often expected. For instance, the unique visual designs featured in a graphic novel sometimes don't translate well into a live-action setting. Or perhaps specific plot details are focused on more than others. But one of the most common occurrences with TV adaptations is that some characters found in graphic novels never make it onscreen. This is undoubtedly the case for Disney+'s "American Born Chinese," based on author Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel of the same name. While much of the series faithfully retains a lot of Yang's original work, it also cut out a character that probably would have stirred much controversy.

Yang's original graphic novel features a character called Chin-Kee, the cousin of Danny, who is essentially a caricature of harmful Chinese stereotypes. The character is meant to boldly bring to light the countless negative stereotypes against Asian people brought up in history and pop culture. But when "American Born Chinese" was being adapted, Yang was concerned about the character, especially if presented to an audience without context. "I was always freaked out that if it was ever adapted, clips of that character would show up on YouTube, you know?" he told The New York Times. "Completely contextualized." 

It's easy to see Yang's concerns in today's viral-clip media landscape. Fortunately, series showrunner Kelvin Yu came up with a suitable alternative.

The Disney+ adaptation created a new character instead

During "American Born Chinese," we're introduced to Freddy Wong, played by Ke Huy Quan. Wong is a comic-relief character on "Beyond Repair," an in-universe '90s sitcom in "American Born Chinese." Wong essentially serves as a replacement for Chin-Kee because, in the character's journey throughout the Disney+ series, he still addresses some of the anti-Asian stereotypes Western entertainment has historically presented. Although the character isn't as harsh as Chin-Kee in Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel original, he still did cause enough concern for Quan to pass on the role initially before getting a chance to learn of Kelvin Yu's intentions with Wong.

As "American Born Chinese" peels back a layer to focus on Jamie Yao, the actor behind Wong, we get a more subtle and nuanced exploration of Hollywood and an Asian actor forced to play into an industry's ignorant system to succeed. This is primarily thanks to the character's origin — Yu's experience on the WB show "Popular" as the stereotypical Freddy Gong. 

Not only did Yu come up with a solid solution, but as he expressed to the New York Times, he also confronted his past. "The only way to defeat your fear is to wear its armaments," Yu told the Times."That's how you steal its power."