Immigrants Continue to Make Inroads on Mainstream Television

Until fairly recently, immigrant stories in the mainstream media have long been reduced to trite stereotypes – think the dangerous felon in the courtroom drama, the “wacky” next door neighbor on the hit sitcom, and the exploited caretaker in the background of a blockbuster movie. But as immigration continues to dominate the headlines, prominent immigrants in the entertainment industry have begun to take back the narrative about how they encounter life in America. Two new television shows slated to hit the airways soon are committed to exploring the complexities of the 21st century immigrant experience, and giving audiences a glimpse of the diversity of the American dream.

Little America, a half hour anthology series being developed for the upcoming Apple TV Plus streaming service, is based on a series of true immigrant stories featured in Epic magazine. Written by Kumail Nanjiani, an actor and comedian who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan as a child, and his American-born wife, Emily Gordon, the show is being described as “a small, collective portrait of America’s immigrants – and thereby a portrait of America itself.” Little America is creating a buzz in the industry because Nanjiani and Gordon are the writers of The Big Sick, the hit 2017 indie movie based on the couple’s own unconventional courtship. Alan Yang, who co-created and executive produced the hit Netflix series Master of None, will also be executive producing Little America, and undoubtedly will imbue the show with his own experience as a first-generation TaiwaneseAmerican. [See ‘Little America’ Immigrant Anthology Series in Works at Apple from ‘The Big Sick’ Writers, Lee Eisenberg & Alan Yang, by Nellie Andreeva, Deadline, 08.Feb.2019.]

A more humorous take on the intricacies of the immigrant experience will soon be coming to network TV in the form of Sunnyside, a single-camera sitcom that has been optioned for a pilot by NBC. Kal Penn, a first generation IndianAmerican actor and comedian who also worked for the Obama Administration, co-wrote the show and will lead a diverse cast made up primarily of immigrant and first-generation American actors. The plot will focus on a New York City Councilman, played by Penn, who finds himself working with seven young immigrants in the eponymous Queens neighborhood of Sunnyside to help them pursue their own versions of the American dream. The show began shooting on location last month and has attracted positive attention from the local community, including NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who tweeted “Welcome to Sunnyside” at Penn and his cast mates. [See NBC Assembles Cast of Mostly Immigrant Actors for Kal Penn ‘Sunnyside,’ by Nellie Andreeva, Deadline, 07.Mar.2019.]

While the entertainment industry still has a lot of work to do before immigrants gain full representation, two new groundbreaking shows will soon be giving audiences a nuanced look at immigrant life that so far has been sorely lacking in the mainstream media. Hopefully, these shows will pave the way for more explorations into how unique and personal the spirit of America is to every immigrant who crosses over to our shores.


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