How shame, self-acceptance fueled creation of 'American Born Chinese' | Watch now on Disney+

BySilvio Carrillo and Lindsay Nakano KGO logo
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Shame & self-acceptance: How 'American Born Chinese' came to be
Gene Luen Yang shares how shame and self-acceptance fueled the creation of his graphic novel and new Disney+ series, "American Born Chinese."

SUNNYVALE, Calif. -- As a youth, Bay Area graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang didn't always embrace his Chinese heritage. But as he got older it gave him a sense of purpose, akin to a superpower his graphic novel and new Disney+ series, "American Born Chinese," explores.

"I started drawing when I was two, and my mom tells me that I just never stopped. I kept drawing and drawing and drawing until today," Yang explains as he sits at a picnic table in a tree-lined park near his office in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The 43-year-old tells us he loved every Disney cartoon and Marvel character, "Except for one, except for Shang-Chi."

VIDEO: 'American Born Chinese' revitalizes the story of The Monkey King

The upcoming highly anticipated Disney+ series, "American Born Chinese," based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, is set to release May 24th.

Yang was born to a Chinese family in the San Jose area. As a youngster, he grew up hearing tales of Chinese myth and legends from his parents.

But as he grew older, he says, "I did go through a period of time when I was embarrassed and ashamed of my own cultural heritage. I was ashamed of even the way I looked."

Once in college, he began to notice how Chinese and other Asian ethnicities' racial stereotypes permeated television and media in general, and how this was connected to the shame he felt when he was younger.

A few years later he wrote, "American Born Chinese," a graphic novel that would become the basis for the Disney+ series, which is streaming now.

VIDEO: Disney+'s 'American Born Chinese' Revitalizes The Monkey King Embracing Culture, Identity And Family

President Biden held a screening of the upcoming Disney+ movie "American Born Chinese" in honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

"I think the core of both the book and the show are the same," he said. "It's about a kid who is struggling with self-acceptance. He has a piece of himself that he's very embarrassed about. And the story is about how he eventually figures out how to accept that piece and even take pride in it."

Yang created the series with "Bob's Burgers" executive producer, Kelvin Yu, and stars Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Daniel Wu, Ben Wang, Yeo Yann Yann, Chin Han, Sydney Taylor, and Jimmy Liu.

Now, Yang is bursting with pride about his ethnicity and the importance of creating the series.

"To finally get included in American stories, there's something affirming about that," he said. "You know, there's something that says, 'You are no longer a foreigner. You're actually a part of this.'"

He adds, "Our stories are worthy of being on the page and are worthy of being on the screen."