Disney Channel adds Asian representation with Andi Mack

  Bex, Andi, and their grandmother explore Bex’s box of secrets, which revolves around Andi’s parents.

Bex, Andi, and their grandmother explore Bex’s box of secrets, which revolves around Andi’s parents.

Lisa Tô

I can hardly remember any shows growing up that depicted a main character that looked Asian like me. Sure, there were American Dragon: Jake Long on Disney Channel and Xiaolin Showdown on Kids’ WB (Warner Bros.), but because there were so few options available, I did not feel connected to those characters nor could I relate to their lifestyles. Growing up, I thought I was different because I wasn’t white and my family didn’t do things that white families on TV did.

Fresh Off the Boat on ABC has recently brought Asian representation to the forefront on television, and Andi Mack, Disney Channel’s new show set to premiere tomorrow, April 7, is following in its footsteps. The first episode of Andi Mack, directed by creator of Lizzie McGuire Terri Minsky, has been released on YouTube by Disney Channel. It is phenomenal and exactly what I wish I had growing up as a Chinese-American.

In the first episode, there are already a lot of unique things going on. Andi Mack, a thirteen year old half-Chinese girl, unlike other little girls on Disney Channel, sports a boyish short hairdo and is awkwardly adorable. Like other Asian-Americans, she has strict parents who do not let her do a lot of things that she wants to do. Her best friends are not Asians but a black girl with curly hair and a white boy. Andi loves crafting and working on DIY projects, and she buys a motorbike (with training wheels) behind her parents’ back. The motorbike alludes to her much older sister, who soon shows up on a motorcycle.

Andi’s older sister is the cool Bex, who has traveled around the world and wants to reconnect with Andi. Their mother shows a strong dislike towards Bex that Andi does not understand, which is something that also does not happen often in Disney Channel shows: the relationship between mother and daughter is tense and strained. 

SPOILER WARNING: we later discover in the episode that this is because Bex was pregnant as a teenager and that she is not Andi’s older sister but her mother. The woman Andi thought was her mother is her grandmother. Bex tries to explain the situation to Andi, but Andi runs away to her little clubhouse to contemplate her life, which has just been turned upside down. At the end of the episode, Andi does take Bex up on her offer to explain who her father is, but it turns out that Bex is the one who is not yet ready to tell Andi everything. 

Disney Channel is now examining teenage pregnancy, which is truly mindblowing, and what makes it even more astonishing is that it is a teenage pregnancy that occurred in an Asian household. Of course, Asians can also have teenage pregnancies, but that seems to never be discussed or ever mentioned. The fact that Andi believed Bex was her sister her whole life and then discovers that Bex is actually her mother is also mindboggling.

I don’t remember watching a show about a family as deep and complex as Andi Mack before on Disney Channel. I am grateful towards Terri Minsky for creating an Asian- inclusive show with such an intricate, emotional-driven story. Within that one half-hour episode, I fell in love with all the characters and cried so much.

Fresh Off the Boat and Andi Mack make me proud of my Chinese heritage because they display parents who are strict in ways like my own parents are, the Asian cultures and ideas that I grew up with, and people of color doing cool things outside of the usual shy Asian nerd tropeThese two Asian shows would have made my younger self appreciate my culture more. We can’t stop here. Opportunities arose with Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, but the characters were all whitewashed, leaving Asian-Americans to question why they are not being portrayed in these originally Asian shows. We need more Asian representation on the screen, especially since only about five percent of all actors in the U.S. are Asian, according to a study done by USC.

Not only do we need more Asian actors, but we also need more representation of other people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, those who have disabilities and mental illnesses, etc. No one should have to be made to feel like they aren’t important enough or good enough to be portrayed on TV or in films.