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‘The Big Sick’ and ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Writers to Bring Crucial Immigration Stories to TV

‘Little America’ and ‘Cash Only’ seek to change the way America looks at immigration and will hopefully make empathy a constant via the small screen.
The Big Sick Kumail Nanjiani Emily V Gordon
By  · Published on June 20th, 2018

‘Little America’ and ‘Cash Only’ seek to change the way America looks at immigration and will hopefully make empathy a constant via the small screen.

Every story worth telling has a political edge. Regardless of genre, any narrative operates on belief systems that drive plots forward, and more often than not, identity is paramount in all of them. Who are we as viewers without characters to relate to?

Of course, some stories discuss the politics of identity much more prudently and extensively. Ideally, we won’t just watch Persepolis, Sin Nombre, or Babel for “enjoyment.” These examples are emotionally resonant and even harrowing for a reason: they (and other films like them) open gateways into the lives and struggles of others without sugarcoating what that difference looks like. In doing so, the images embedded in these films facilitate understanding and, hopefully, acceptance.

In a time when real-life politics has become such a shitstorm — when one of the latest “hot-button” issues in America rests in whether immigrant children should be separated from their parents and put in unlivable conditions — the call for better, more extensive narratives about different lived experiences is louder than ever. The hope is that one day, stories from actual immigrants about actual immigrants will actually be normalized, providing both humanizing and celebratory portrayals of diverse communities that treat their lives with sensitivity and nuance.

I truly hate to say that Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s latest venture comes at a “perfect” time because there shouldn’t be a cap-off point for heartening projects like theirs. Deadline reports that Apple’s burgeoning original content slate has officially picked up a half-hour immigrant anthology show titled Little America from the writers, who were Oscar-nominated for last year’s romantic comedy hit The Big Sick. News of the series first made the rounds in February when it was being considered as a straight-to-series development. The rest of the Little America team include SMILF executive producer Lee Eisenberg, Master of None co-creator and executive producer Alan Yang, and Universal Television.

Nanjiani, Gordon, and Eisenberg will pen Little America, and Eisenberg will also serve as series showrunner. The project will be based on true stories featured in Epic magazine; anecdotes that have been collated to present a portrait of life within various American immigrant communities, “and thereby a portrait of America itself.”

One of the most exciting aspects of Little America so far has to be its commitment to telling happier stories. In portraying modern immigrant life in well-rounded ways — including depicting the humor, romance, and unpredictability of everyday life — the show will likely reframe narratives that have been steeped in negativity thanks to mainstream media. Little America could very well work in the same vein as The Big Sick, which introduced a new standard in the rom-com genre. The film’s semi-autobiographical slant lent authenticity to its core story, and it discussed dating dynamics, family, and identity intersections within an interracial relationship with such finesse.

As far as Apple is concerned, nabbing such a promising new series is a step in the right direction. The company definitely has plenty on its plate as it continues to juggle various high-profile projects in the midst of setting up its own platform. However, the originality and timeliness of Little America ensure that Nanjiani, Gordon, and Eisenberg won’t be lost among the company of Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Steven Spielberg.

Deadline also announced that restauranteur and author Eddie Huang is developing an immigration-centric series of his own, although this show will have more of an international slant. Huang, most famous for his memoir “Fresh Off the Boat,” which has since been adapted into the ABC sitcom starring Constance Wu and Randall Park, will be bringing Cash Only to the small screen. Working in conjunction with Propagate, the unscripted original series will take Huang through immigrant kitchens both in the United States and abroad as he embarks on a quest to explore multiculturalism and identity.

Not much is known about Cash Only at the moment due to the lack of a set plot. However, it’s easy to imagine where a series like this could go. Huang particularly states that the show will focus on how the general public’s skepticism of immigration is fueled by short-sighted preconceived notions about cultural exchange. If anything, Cash Only aims to be an educational platform by highlighting some first-hand accounts for consumption.

Per Huang:

“While not all Americans understand and welcome immigration, a lot of the anger towards immigrants could be resolved if it wasn’t presented as a zero-sum game where dominant culture loses every time an immigrant is granted entry. I hope we can provide much needed perspective on this issue by examining the world through the eyes of the globally marginalized.”

Little America and Cash Only ultimately come from the same standpoint and can work together to get us through a dire time where real life can seem awfully dehumanizing. The fact that both shows cover different aspects of the immigrant experience is crucial in providing multifaceted, empathetic depictions.

The combination of Cash Only’s localized and global aspirations perfectly complements Little America‘s aims to keep its perspectives limited to stories on American soil. Meanwhile, the individualized, serialized nature of these shows cannot be expected to be all-encompassing either, which is very much the point; no two immigrant stories will ever be alike, but they are all valid and deserve to be heard. Together, Little America and Cash Only will tap into their potential to demystify incorrect assumptions. They are all about encouraging empathy. Now, it’s our job to watch and listen.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)