I’ve talked about the lack of diversity in movies and TV forever in my pieces on
this blog. And though the Oscars are once again all-white and deserving of our
ire, Asian Americans of Filipino descent have reason to cheer at least for
You can add Vincent Rodriguez III as a Filipino American diversity trailblazer.
A generation ago, I shunned an acting career in favor of TV journalism because
of a lack of roles. I couldn’t play the lead in a TV series, but on the local
news, I could be the lead simply by standing in raging flood waters and getting
Or from standing next to a five-alarm fire and risking smoke inhalation.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, is part of a new day, and a new headline. And now
he gets the girl.
I mean, when was the last time you saw a Filipino American male love interest on
Who is that SAG-AFTRA member named Never?
If the recent comic wave of “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Dr. Ken,” and “Master of
None,” has established that Asian Americans are back on Hollywood’s TV radar,
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (CW, Monday nights) has gone one step further for a
broadcast network show.
In a TV universe where Filipinos are hardly visible, the show has lifted
Rodriguez to a new level: Rom-com hunk.
Not the driver, the cook, or indiscriminate minority guy No. 3.
Rodriguez gets the girl, rejects the girl, gets an even hotter girl, and then is
pursued by somewhat less-hot girl (the “crazy ex-girlfriend).
That girl would be Rebecca Bunch, played by Rachel Bloom, the star, writer, and
co-executive producer of the show, along with Aline Brosh McKenna.
Considering Bloom’s recent victories at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice
Awards for best actress in a comedy, she’s far from crazy.
Especially as to diversity and having Rodriguez’ Josh Chan as her Filipino
Object of Desire.
In SMH parlance, that would acronymize into FOOD, and wouldn’t you know that’s
what got me hooked on the show.
Filipino Thanksgiving is not much different from any other Thanksgiving, though
if the turkey doesn’t have a roast pig as a companion, there is likely to be the
entree of dinuguan.
It’s a pork blood stew that’s cooked until the blood is thick and grainy,
drenching little bits of pork butt, pork belly, and maybe sliced pig ears for
They ate it on the show.
Another American Filipino first on network TV. And I have monitored these things
ever since I watched JFK’s funeral on the family black and white TV.
Filipinos’ beloved dinuguan, a vegan’s high-cholesterol nightmare, a punchline
on a network show! And in-language, not sanitized by referring to it as
Rodriguez said dinuguan wasn’t just a prop.
“Her plate legit had dinuguan on it, and each take the food would disappear,”
Rodriguez said. “She told the prop guy to keep filling her plate. She said, ‘I’m
going to eat it. It’s there. I’m hungry. I love Filipino food. I’m eating it.‘”
Rodriguez explained that Rachel grew up in Southern California around Asians and
“Our show is normalizing Filipinos, but we were always here. We’ve just never
had this kind of exposure,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez grew up in the San Francisco Filipino enclave of Daly City, the
Northern California version of the show’s West Covina.
He said he got hooked on musicals watching “Newsies.” And then as a martial
artist. he saw Gene Kelly and realized that dancing was a more “non-violent
Now 33, (a fact that he somewhat regretted being public, although I reassured
him as a Filipino, he will look 33 for the next 50 years), Rodriguez is on a
show that has “heat” and is getting noticed. He’s auditioning for roles in
movies and TV that would normally be cast with a white actor.
In fact, it was an issue he brought up with his bosses, Bloom and McKenna, at
“I asked them this question at my final call back,” he told me. “I said, ‘Why is
it Josh Chan and not Josh Smith, or Josh Leibowitz? You could have very easily
gone with some other white heartthrob…’ I was flattered to be there, but I also
thought why am I here right now? Why did you guys make it this way? Because
Aline and Rachel are head writers on the show. They’re both executive producers,
and they both made this choice. And Aline was saying that she and Rachel both
grew up in Southern California and of all the hot surfer bro types, there were
definitely Asians among them just as hot as the white guys. So [they said]
they wanted Josh to depict that because it was something they had never seen on
television. And then after getting the job, Rachel admitted when she was younger
she had some huge crushes on some Asian guys…She would go out of her way to
go to the place where this guy worked, on the chance of seeing him.”
It sounds like the show.
“It’s all based on truth and their upbringing and background and where they grew
up. And after hearing that, I said, I grew up in my own West Covina, up north in
Daly City. And I went to school with Josh Chan. I feel like I know who this
person is. I actually feel like him. It feels like me.”
Rodriguez would seem to be a perfect match for Rachel/Rebecca.
But the show is not called “Crazy Ex-Boyfriend,” and something tells me a twist
is coming. Or as they say in the proverbial “writers’ room,’ things will be
In the meantime, there’s no guarantee for a new season, so the next few weeks
are a test of sorts.
Frankly, I’m rooting for Rodriguez’ character Josh, and for the show.
In an odd way, I see myself as a Flip-side of the Rebecca character. I went from
the west coast to the east coast to attend Harvard and date Jewish girls.
That didn’t quite work out either.
I’ve often said that when we all have a love interest in each other, diversity
would simply happen and through our hearts work its way into our lives.
Ultimately, it did for me.
But I can’t help but think of my dad when I see the show.
For Filipinos, who were called “lusty rabbits” and faced discrimination for
interracial love when they first arrived in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s been a
long time getting to “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Rodriguez told me they weren’t really aware of it when they were shooting the
show. But the image of a Filipino family through Rodriguez’ Josh on “Crazy
Ex-Girlfriend” is much more groundbreaking than anyone can imagine.
Good thing, he had the courage not to give up.
“A family member two years ago, when I was borrowing money, said I should
consider another line of work in case the acting thing doesn’t pan out, because
if I needed help, I couldn’t run to them anymore,” Rodriguez told me. “It was a
very powerful member of my family, and that really shook me and made me very
afraid to pursue what I wanted, knowing that it was going to be a dice roll.”
But he’d been in New York for more than a decade at that point, doing every
“I’ve scrubbed the dirtiest toilets; I’ve painted bathrooms, bars; I did what it
took to survive in that city to do what I love,” Rodriguez said. “To pay for the
dance class, the acting class, the seminar. My agent said I have a lot of
perseverance and that whatever I have, they should bottle up. I just had this
feeling inside–it’s not just about me anymore. I am Filipino. But I also love
what I do. I’m very passionate about it, and that’s made me stand out in not
always good ways. But I’m living my life happily and doing what I love. And not
everyone gets to say that. Having this job is its own ultimate reward. But also
rewarding is knowing that me being here means so much more to other people, and
gives other people hope for our culture, and for where the entertainment
industry is going.”
Rodriguez the actor is hopeful.
But even star and executive producer Bloom knows how hard it is to get a project
produced. In her Golden Globes acceptance speech, she talked of almost not
having a TV show.
“We made a pilot for another network, and they rejected it,” she said. “And we
sent the pilot to every other network and we got six rejections in one day, and
we felt like crap. But we knew it was good.”
Time for Hollywood to learn its lesson.
It if wants to tell the new stories that reflect the modern audience, it will
need to pay more than lip service to diversity.
The boardroom folks with the purse strings should take a tip from improv.