What’s in a Name? Asian-American Identity in From Dusk Till Dawn
Rich in action and featuring snake-like vampires, From Dusk Till Dawn may be one of the more racially nuanced series in television. Wait a minute—Did I say From Dusk Till Dawn? As in the series based on the 1996 Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez b-horror action film? Yes, you read that right!
From Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network, From Dusk Till Dawn is a supernatural crime series about two wanted criminals, brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (played with magnificent chemistry by DJ Cotrona and Zane Holtz) who kidnap the Fuller family and use their RV to help them escape into Mexico. Chaos ensues as they are hunted down by local law enforcer Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) and are manipulated by the supernatural forces tied to the Mexican cartel.
With a strong number of Latino creatives in front and behind the camera, From Dusk Till Dawn has proven itself as one of the more racially nuanced shows in mainstream media. The television landscape is getting more diverse, and while that landscape is not perfect, it is progressively better. After all, Viola Davis became the first black woman to win Best Actress in a Drama Series in all of Emmy’s 67-year history. Shows like FOX’s Empire and CW’s Jane the Virgin, both dominated by a strong Black and Latino cast respectively, are earning nominations and awards. Meanwhile, ABC Network has 18 Asian series regulars this season and where three of their shows—Fresh Off the Boat, Dr. Ken, and Quantico—have one or more Asian lead.
As a Vietnamese-American, I cling to every occurrence of Asian-American representation I see. I yearn to see more diverse faces in mainstream media because, like Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez said in the Washington Post, “that lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in this world. It really made me feel a certain way about myself, about beauty, what I could and could not be.” It’s why I appreciate shows like From Dusk Till Dawn having such a diverse cast. But more importantly, I appreciate the fact these characters aren’t fully defined by their race or ethnicity. As From Dusk Till Dawn director Joe Menendez told Nerd Reactor, their stories are universal, but it’s the specific elements that make their perspectives unique.
With From Dusk Till Dawn, I can’t help but pay particular attention to Scott Fuller, the only Asian-American character in the main cast. Who, much to my surprise, resonated with me much more than I initially realized.
In the series, Scott (played by Brandon Soo Hoo) is the teenage son to Jacob Fuller (Robert Patrick) and the younger brother to Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport), having been adopted into the family at the age of seven from China. However, Scott is not simply a prop for the other characters, and the show is not afraid to delve into his specific experiences as an Asian-American transracial adoptee.
Warning: Minor spoilers for From Dusk Till Dawn season 2, episode 5 ‘Bondage.’
Season 2, episode 5 marked a major development with Scott. In an emotional moment to reconnect with him, Kate confesses she resented him when he joined their family, and the heartbreaking truth that Kate’s resentment was rooted in his foreign-ness. She even admits that she was the reason everyone called him Scott instead of his birth name: Jian Jun. But it’s not that she couldn’t pronounce his name—she didn’t want to learn how to pronounce his name.
This aspect of Scott’s story resonated strongly with me, reminding me much of The Improper Bostonian’s interview with Orange is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba who as a child “asked [her] mother if [she] could be called Zoe” because “nobody ever knew how to pronounce [her] name.” The story is a rarity to see and hear on American television. From Dusk Till Dawn may be a fun supernatural action show, but this pivotal moment between Kate and Scott, took me multiple days to emotionally unload.
I was born with a Western name, while my Vietnamese surname is easy to read and pronounce. My surname isn’t Western, but it is simple and ambiguous enough that I’m rarely confronted about the foreign-ness of it. However my Vietnam-born refugee mother did give me a Vietnamese name: Thục Yên. Unlike my surname, it’s not as easy on the Western tongue, but I respond to its call just as quickly as if it was on my birth certificate. My western name was chosen for me by my mom, and the thought doesn’t escape me that she did so because it would be easier for me to assimilate in the New World.
This is why I’m further enraptured by the show’s awareness. It doesn’t necessarily smear Kate as the antagonist of their relationship, but instead dives into the complexities of it. For Kate, her brother’s birth name was too different—he was too different, and that was bad. So she changed his name. As author David S. Slawson stated, “names are an important key to what society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.” Even though Kate was a child (and she’s aware that she was), she’s directly confronting her mistakes by acknowledging the consequences of her actions and how it affected her brother.
We cater to the Western ear, and rarely is it the other way around. As Uzo Aduba’s mother once told her: “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn how to say Uzoamaka.” Learning how to pronounce someone’s name is the simplest form of respect and acknowledgement.
So it’s powerfully symbolic when Kate calls Scott by his birth name, Jian Jun, and tells him she loves him. In the words of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, it’s her “recognition of the individual to whom it belongs.” It’s like she’s giving back what she stripped of him—his identity—and truly accepting him for who and what Scott is and everything else that comes with it.
In the framework of From Dusk Till Dawn, names have a lot of power. They represent who we are, they are tools to help empower, and they are weapons to control. The name Scott rids Jian Jun of his foreign-ness just as the name Jesica was given to me to preemptively cater to the Canadians and American around us. Names are the core of our identity, defining our relationships to ourselves, to the people and the world around us, because as Thoreau wrote, “he [or she] who can pronounce my name aright, he [or she] can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.”
Featured Image: Brandon Soo Hoo as Scott Fuller From the El Rey Network Original “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” Photography: Robert Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy El Rey Network (c) 2014 Dusk Productions LLC. All rights reserved.
Gif Set: Courtesy of firstenchantervivienne.tumblr.com