Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung Join Forces on New Disney+ Series

What Happened: Top Asian-American designers Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung are lending their fashion talents to Disney+. The duo will work together to create costumes for the upcoming series American Born Chinese, alongside costume designer Joy Cretton. Filming is underway but no release date has been announced yet.

American Born Chinese is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Gene Luen Yang. The show centers around Jin Wang, a Taiwanse-American teen who is struggling to navigate his social and cultural identity when he befriends a new foreign exchange student and gets roped into a battle between Gods of Chinese mythology. Based on the legend of the Monkey King, the story delves into themes of family, cultural identity, and self-acceptance.

The Jing Take: Lim, born to parents of Chinese descent, and Gurung are fitting additions to the accomplished creative team and cast. The designers are not only known for their renown in the fashion world but also for their work in combating anti-Asian hate. In November 2021, the two paired up to launch a digital comic book called the House of Slay, which stars themselves as superheroes who tackle racism. By joining the Disney+ project, these designers will help to pave the way for even more positive Asian American representation in Hollywood. 

That said, it will be interesting to see how the series differs from the source material. In the original comic, racial caricatures are explicit: the character Chin-Kee, for example, is an embodiment of Chinese stereotypes, from the exaggeratedly slanted eyes and yellow skin to the antiquated clothing. While one of the characters listed in the upcoming adaptation is described as “a fictional character from a popular mid-1990s sitcom,” which could be a version of Chin-Kee, the fact that the show is live action and on Disney platform could temper how far it goes with its depiction of racism.

In the graphic novel, Chin-Kee (as in “Chinky”) forces readers to confront the historical and modern stereotypes used against Asians. Photo: American Born Chinese

There is also the question of if Chinese audiences will watch it. Disney+, like other foreign streaming services, is not available in mainland China. Even if they were to access the show, storylines about Chinese Americans often miss the mark; Crazy Rich Asians only generated $1.2 million in its opening weekend at the Chinese box office after making $173 million domestically.

Ultimately, American Born Chinese adds to the growing number of thoughtful, nuanced portrayals of the Chinese diaspora onscreen. If the award-winning source material, distinguished cast and crew, and backing by Disney+ weren’t reason enough to watch, the collaboration between Lim and Gurung only heightens anticipation. Whether it leads to co-branded products and fashion collections in the future though remains to be seen.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.