EXCLUSIVE: Disney+ has given a straight-to-series order to American Born Chinese, an action-comedy series based on the 2006 graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. Destin Daniel Cretton, helmer of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is set to direct and executive produce the Disney Branded Television series produced by 20th Television.
Written and executive produced by Bob’s Burgers exec producer Kelvin Yu and his brother, Charles Yu (Westworld), the series is executive produced by Melvin Mar and Jake Kasdan (Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.). Asher Goldstein (Just Mercy) and Gene Luen Yang are also executive producers. Kelvin Yu serves as showrunner on the series, which will start casting soon.
American Born Chinese tells the story of Jin Wang, an average teenager juggling his high school social life with his immigrant home life. When he meets a new foreign student on the first day of the school year, even more worlds collide as Jin is unwittingly entangled in a battle of Chinese mythological gods. The action-comedy explores issues of identity, culture and family.
“We are delighted to continue our relationship with Melvin Mar and Jake Kasdan and thrilled that Destin Daniel Cretton is set to direct,” said Ayo Davis, president of Disney Branded Television. “The team are visionaries in bringing character-driven adventures to life, and we cannot wait for our audience to experience this fantastically memorable and imaginative adaptation of the graphic novel. This is a great universal story that moves between worlds and explores the impact of culture, identity, and acceptance through the lens of adolescence.”
Mar and Kasdan are executive producers of Disney+’s Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., another Disney Branded Television series produced by 20th Television, with American Born Chinese marking the latest collaboration between the Disney teams led by Dana Walden and Davis. 20th TV-based Mar and Kasdan previously executive produced the studio’s comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, the first network sitcom featuring an Asian family in more than 20 years, which ran on ABC for six seasons and became the first series featuring an all-Asian American main cast to surpass 100 episodes.
“This has been a labor of love for Melvin Mar, and like the force of nature he is, the team he has assembled in Kelvin, Destin and Jake is as inspired and otherworldly as Gene’s beautiful graphic novel,” said 20th Television President Karey Burke. “We are so proud to be their studio and grateful to Ayo and everyone at Disney Branded Television and Disney+ for their belief in this series.”
American Born Chinese was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, of the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award and a 2007 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year, among many accolades. It also has been recommended to teachers for classroom instruction.
“Gene Luen Yang’s book is a staple in American literature, and deeply important to a whole generation of readers,” said Kelvin Yu. “Destin and Melvin are storytellers working at the highest level imaginable. It’s all so exciting and so humbling to be a part of.”
This marks the first TV series for Cretton who is coming off co-writing and directing Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. His feature credits also include Short Term 12 (2013),The Glass Castle (2017) and Just Mercy (2019).
“Reading Kelvin’s riveting adaptation of Gene’s incredible novel had me laughing and crying and jumping out of my chair on every page,” Cretton said. “I feel deeply connected to the characters in this story and the brilliant team bringing it to life. This show is going to be unlike anything we’ve experienced on TV, and I can’t wait for the world to see what we’re cooking up.”
Like Cretton, Yang recent work was focused on martial arts superhero Shang-Chi; he wrote a Shang-Chi comic book miniseries, which was published last year.
“I feel so lucky to be working with this team,” Yang said. “Melvin Mar is a man with a vision, and I’m deeply grateful that he took this project under his wing. Kelvin Yu is a phenomenal talent. His script brings to television everything I wanted to get across in my book. And Destin Cretton… who in America isn’t a fan of Destin Cretton right now? I can’t wait for him to bring his signature blend of action and heart to the show.”
Yang has a long affinity for the Disney brand; as a child he wanted to become an animator for the studio.
“When I was in high school, I was such a big Disney fan that I had at least one Mickey Mouse item on me at all times — a wallet, a watch, a belt buckle, a T-shirt, something,” he said. “Being a part of Disney+ is a dream come true.”
As an executive producer, Kelvin Yu shared in Bob’s Burgers‘ Animated Program Emmy win in 2017. Charles Yu is an author in addition to being a TV writer. His Interior Chinatown won the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction.
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