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The APAHM Project 2023 Days 1-4: Young Rock

Updated: May 11, 2023

Series: Young Rock

Created by: Nahnatchka Khan and Jeff Chiang

Release: 2021

Where to Watch: Peacock or Freevee

Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2022, 2021, 2020

*Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Young Rock, Fierce Baby Productions, Seven Bucks Productions, or Universal Television, LLC at the time of writing this post. My review and discussion is not a reflection of my time of employment or working conditions. It is a review of the story line of the first season, in which I was not part of the crew.*

Why it Made the List:

Those who know me knows that The Rock being "everywhere" is my new inside joke. After working on Season 3 of the actor's biographical TV-comedy for the majority of 2022, it was like I could not escape this man. His cardboard cut out was in every bar I went to, his face on PowerPoint slides at comic con panels, his Under Armor logo on kids' sweatshirts at Disney World. When making the lineup for this year's APAHM Project, I actually wanted to exclude any of The Rock's projects because surely I could find some other Pacific Islander/Samoan/Polynesian/Maori/Tongan-American led film or TV show instead. It turns out, I couldn't.

My Thoughts:

I had watched Season 3 of Young Rock as it aired since I was part of the crew. And it truly made me question if it would get a season 4 or not just based on viewership numbers alone. I never met anyone who had seen the previous seasons before working on the show. In fact, when my parents would tell their friends what project I was working on, they had never even heard of the show. It's not at all bad and it does have its heart-warming and funny moments, but it wasn't anything spectacular or ground-breaking. Except in many ways, it was.

Young Rock was created by Nahnatchka Khan and Jeff Chiang who you might recognize as the creators of Fresh Off the Boat, which was the first comedy sitcom to feature an all Asian American cast in nearly 20 years and ran for 6 seasons. Khan is also the director of the 2020 APAHM Project pick Always Be My Maybe. The show follows The Rock in the year 2032 where he is running for president. During his campaign, he gives a number of speeches and interviews (with AAPI comedy veteran Randall Park) and intertwines them with stories of his past.

Given the show's title, I think it's no secret that the show mostly focuses on The Rock's past - 10, 16, and 20 year old "Dewey" and his family. Adrian Groulx, Bradley Constant, and Uli Latukefu play each rendition of The Rock. Stacey Leilua plays Ata Johnson and Ana Tuisila plays Lia Maivia, The Rock's grandmother. Latukefu (Tongan), Leilua (Tongan/Maori/Pakeha), and Tuisila (Samoan) are all New Zealanders and I must praise Khan and Chiang for accurately casting The Rock and his family. All three are talented people and also some of the nicest actors I've had the pleasure of working with. Other actors include Fasitua Amosa (Samoan) and John Tui (Tongan) as "The Wild Samoans" and Tongan actor Josh Thomson as Lia's assistant Bob. Not to mention the many side characters and background extras and of course East Asian actors Randall Park and Ronny Chieng. This was the first-ever project I have worked on that starred and was created by AAPI and it was definitely inspiring and motivating knowing that I was working on a show that helped amplify AAPI voices.

The story line of Season 1 is very heart-warming. It's not super focused on wrestling like Season 3 is, although if you are a fan, we are introduced to Andre the Giant, Iron Sheik, Macho Man, and more. It's about Johnson's relationship with his parents, mostly his father. What it was like growing up poor, traveling around, high school problems like clothes and girls, and his time at The University of Miami and eventual draft into the Canadian Football League. However, it is my opinion that the best episode of the season is "A Lady Named Star Search" (S1E9).

In this episode, Ata gets a voicemail from Star Search inviting her to LA for a second round of auditions. Ata is nervous about leaving behind young Dewey but decides to go. Once at the airport, she notes that Dewey will be okay if both she and her husband, Rocky, are traveling for their respective careers because she grew up fine despite her father's wrestling travels. But she soon realizes that it was because of her mother, Lia, that she grew up okay. Lia was Ata's constant and Ata wants to be the same for Dewey.

Ata comes back home and tells Dewey Star Search had too many talented people and changed their minds about her. In the next episode, Dewey unknowingly hurts Ata's feelings by saying he doesn't want to stay home with her and instead wants to go with Rocky. Rocky tells Dewey what Ata gave up to be with him. It is a small example of what parents go through to give their children a better life, even though the children do not understand the sacrifices that were made.

The Johnson's struggle with money throughout the entire season. Rocky takes side-wrestling gigs, Ata cleans houses, Rocky sells his car. But when Dewey wants a boogie board, he gets it. Lia tells him her version of a boogie board back in Samoa was a piece of driftwood. It isn't until 16-year-old Dewey gets a wake up call from Ata that he dedicates his career to making sure he provides for his family. He promises to buy them enough cars to drive a different one every day of the week. Dewey tries and fails to get drafted into the NFL so that he can buy his parents a house.

2032 Dwayne makes a lot of comments about how he's had to fight his whole life or how he comes from a family of fighters, etc. And looking at him as the successful former-athlete/present-blockbuster star that he is now, it's easy to be critical of these comments. How could The Rock possibly know what it's like to fight or to have nothing or be a "regular" guy just like us? But I know what it's like to grow up with immigrant parents. You fight. You fight for a place in your new home. You fight to make your own opportunities. You fight to be the success story your family sacrificed everything for. You fight to make their "American Dreams" come true. You fight. I have no doubt that The Rock's retelling of his past is rooted in a majority of truth. Ata and Lia both fought, as Samoan-Americans and as women to provide for their family, for Dewey. And Dewey did not let that effort go wasted. Spoiler Alert from Season 3 -- he does buy his family that house.

In Conclusion:

The reason I did not want to include Young Rock or The Rock's other projects is because he alone makes up 1/3 of AAPI-led movies in a country where 42% of people can't even name a single Asian-American. He cannot be the sole Samoan-American actor we turn to for diversity. But why are others not cast? That can easily be blamed on the fact that not enough movies or shows starring Pacific Islanders are being made to give those actors a chance. At least The Rock is creating the content and thus the opportunity for more actors of Pacific Islander descent to have their moment. Latukefu, Tuisila, and Leilua may not be American, but they sure deserve more auditions and roles to showcase their talent. Pacific Islanders help make up America and I think it's time we had more media that reflects that.

Small Business Shout Out!

Today, I would like to give a shout-out to Chinese-American artist Brenda Chi. I came across Chi's work while at Artist Alley at WonderCon this year and loved her style and subject matter of Chinese inspired art. She later made a post on her Instagram stories that she overheard someone walk by her booth and commented about her art being too Asian. Asian artists have just as much right as any other artist to create what they want to create and what inspires them. My favorite purchase might just be peking duck print! Something that a lot of non-Asians might find cruel or gross was painted beautifully and colorfully to celebrate our heritage. Be sure to check out Brenda!

If You Liked This, You Might Like:

Fresh Off the Boat on Hulu

Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. on Disney +

Fighting With My Family on Amazon Prime

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