During a presidency in which ICE raids are the largest they have been in a decade (one from August resulted in almost 700 arrests), television writers are fighting back by telling more specific immigration stories in their series.
During the Television Academy’s “Immigration on Television: Stories From America” panel held Tuesday in Los Angeles, Calif., “Bob Hearts Abishola” actor, producer and writer Gina Yashere expressed her feeling that the Trump administration’s polarizing stance on immigration has actually “helped with television.
“Because of the horrible rhetoric that is coming out of what is supposed to be the highest office in the land, that has made people much more open to other stories now. The Trump thing has been horrible, but it has also been great in that way,” she said.
“Crazy Rich Asians” and “Superstore” actor Nico Santos agreed with Yashere’s sentiment about specificity in that storytelling, although he added that such desire goes beyond immigration to include wider stories about “people of color and LGBTQ people and the Latinx community.
“I think [if] a story like mine existed five, six, 10 years ago, it would be, ‘He’s Asian,’ and that would be it,” he said.
In NBC’s “Superstore,” Santos’ character Mateo is a gay, undocumented man of color working at the titular big box store. At the end of the fourth season of the show, the store was raided and Mateo was led away in an ICE van. Now in the fifth season, Mateo has been let out of the detention center, but the show still portrays the new struggles he faces as someone who has been outed as undocumented and is on the government’s radar.
Meanwhile, in “Bob Hearts Abishola,” the titular Abishola (played by Nigerian actor Folake Olowofoyeku) lives with her aunt and uncle, as well as young son, all of whom immigrated from Nigeria in search of a better life. The show talks about moving to America and discovering what it means to be black in America.
“Racism in Nigeria is not quite the same as what African Americans have suffered over generations from slavery — of constantly being taught that they’re less than and having that subliminally injected into their brains,” Yashere said. “Nigerians that come from Nigeria might not necessarily understand that concept. Yeah, they suffered colonialism from the British coming in and all that, but the generational brainwashing has not occurred to them. There’s a kind of divide between the two cultures, which has never been seen on television before.”
Yashere said this type of story would never have happened without executive producer Chuck Lorre being open to hiring a Nigerian woman to write and staff a writers’ room.
“What we got to do [is] get more people like Chuck bringing more people like us through,” Yashere said. “Then what happens is, I rise up the ranks, and I bring through more people like me. And that’s how we make change.”