‘Kim’s Convenience’ Racist Stories Controversy Explained
Beloved CBC series “Kim’s Convenience” has come to an end prematurely, and fans of #KimBits, as the show’s followers are called, are mourning the maid – if at times wickedly bitter – sitcom about a Canadian Korean family serving a diverse community of shoppers in their store in Toronto’s Moss Park neighborhood.
The series, which mixes social commentary with stories about the careers, romances and activities of the Kim’s Church, ended abruptly – and inconclusive – with its fifth season, arriving on Netflix on June 2. After the departure of the co-creator of the series Ins Choi, the production company Thunderbird Entertainment refused to go ahead with a sixth season.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who played Patriarch Appa, said in a interview broadcast with CBC News: The National that the series’ informal conclusion felt “akin to mourning a death in the family.” And two of his fellow cast members, Simu Liu and Jean Yoon, have spoken on social networks these last days on the life behind the scenes of “Kim’s Convenience”: Despite the appearance of a happy and unified whole, the two actors claim that the Asian actors have fought against the deprivation of their rights and the alienation of the producers and intrigue – a not uncommon assertion for North Asians in American Entertainment.
Yoon, who plays Umma, the wise, witty, and sharp-tongued matriarch, wrote on Twitter on June 6 that working on the series was “painful, calling some intrigues “overtly racist. Liu, who plays Jung, the prodigal son and car rental employee, posted on Facebook on June 2 the show’s ending, which he attributed to Thunderbird Entertainment’s production decisions, explaining, “The show cannot be “saved”. It was not “canceled” in the traditional way, that is, by a network after bad grades. Our producers (who also own the intellectual property of Kim’s Convenience) are the ones who chose not to continue.
Liu also denounced the lack of creative input available to senior cast members, saying, “… I always understood that the main cast were the character’s stewards and that they would become more creative as they went along. This was not the case on our show, which was doubly confusing as our producers were predominantly white and we were a cast of Asian Canadians who had a plethora of lived experiences to draw from and offer to writers. . “
The social media posts highlighted the continued reluctance of Hollywood producers and executives in Toronto to trust and empower Asian actors, writers and directors to tell their own stories – and like Yoon and Liu l ‘both pointed out, few of the writers for “Kim’s Convenience” were of Asian descent. Like Yoon wrote, the “lack of Asian women, especially Korean writers in the Kims Writers’ Room made my life very difficult and the experience of working on the series painful.”
The actor also said that in seasons 3 and 4, the problematic storylines “undermine the core values of the characters, the cultural authenticity.” Indeed, small deviations from the authenticity are often the sign that the writers of a series do not know a culture: Yoon Noted that “Koreans hardly ever get [multiple sclerosis]”, With which Umma is diagnosed, and she is correct that the incidence among Koreans of MS is a lowercase 0.1 per 100,000. (Yoon wrote that the producers responded by saying, “Why is this important?” and “John doesn’t understand comedy.”)
If one episode stands out among the seasons that Yoon has called “problematic”, it could be the entry of season 4 “The Help”, in which Umma is mistaken for a waiter by a member of the white jury, Mrs. Taylor, at her daughter Janet’s art college. competition. While calling servers ‘help’ and devaluing them as unwanted is troubling enough, perhaps the most glaring flaw in the storyline is a failed attempt to explore unconscious biases that end up involving, perhaps unconsciously, , that an Asian Canadian woman has unfairly won an award, primarily due to white guilt.
In the episode, Janet tells her teacher that Ms Taylor should apologize to her mother for the mistake – but when Ms Taylor arrives at Kim’s Convenience to apologize, she misinterprets Umma’s trust that Janet will earn. as a request – or even as a threat. – that she should receive the award for making amends for the discrimination. Appa remarks on the hubbub: “An innocent racist mistake, and an Asian lady suggests that a girl should win, multiplied by years of white guilt, equal the Janet Prize.”
Appa’s pointed commentary, while clearly intended to be ironic, also gives credence to the myth that people of color win college admissions, art competitions, or jobs through affirmative action. While the writers attempt to reverse that tired arc with Ms. Taylor’s hilarious and mortifying comment – and all too real – that she feels horrible and understands because her stepdaughter is Sri Lankan, overall, l episode wastes its opportunity. to explore the school’s unconscious biases – the same kind of unconscious biases that plague many writers.
The episode ultimately implies that Janet should be happy with the award, even though she’s not sure whether she really deserved it or not; it is Janet’s responsibility to accept or deny the award and Umma to allow or deny it, rather than Ms. Taylor to do the right thing. It’s a happy conclusion that not only clashes with the stubborn artist and principled artist we love in Janet, willing to stand up for her beliefs often to her own detriment, but it also undermines claims of fairness and inclusion. that “Kim’s Convenience” and similar series claim to defend.
“The Help” is part of a pattern that has emerged in the writing of the series during these seasons, in which cheap punchlines on race, ethnicity and nationality have supplanted the humor of observation. who brought the series its legions of fans. In another episode, for example, the staff at Jung’s car rental company start calling his white colleague Terence “Wasabi,” after his love of the Japanese condiment; Shannon, Jung’s white girlfriend, says she can handle hot ramen because “I’m dating a spicy Korean”; and Terence makes a joke about how “becoming Indian” had “sent him home on Halloween”. Whether you find these jokes offensive, they can’t exactly be called inspired comedy. Coupled with other cultural insensitivities, like the mispronunciation of Korean words, they add to a series that fails both its Asian cast and the Asian people it was meant to represent.
It’s hard to say for sure if this devolution was a consequence of Ins Choi’s absence on set, but Yoon described the situation as having reached a “crisis” between seasons 4 and 5, for which Choi, the only Asian in the scriptwriters’ room has returned. . Yoon said the scripts written by co-creator and showrunner Kevin White without Choi were “so culturally inaccurate that the cast got together and expressed their concerns collectively,” including one – in which Umma attends a class. Zumba wearing flesh-colored tights and don’t realize she looks bare from waist to toe, which further explains the inability of writers to grasp Korean concepts of physical decency and filial piety, in addition to respecting the intelligence of women.
Indeed, as Jung languished in his dead end job instead of succeeding as a model, and Shannon continued to make the same stereotypical race-based jokes from season to season, the lack of character development went beyond the semi-stasis of the traditional episodic sitcom. suggest something else: that the writers and producers of “Kim’s Convenience” viewed their characters as imaginary stereotypes of the Canadian immigrant experience.
Fortunately, the actors behind these characters have broken the mold of the ‘model minority’ to reveal a story of denial of the right to vote, compounded by the obligation to smile, nod and feign gratitude, which reflects an experience. entertainment industry far too common for people of color. When North American pop culture chooses to tell Asian stories, it’s usually the legendary and enjoyable stories of happy, hard-working immigrants and their assimilated children, not the most painful truths.
While Lee believes the fallout from the recent controversy may be a lesson for later projects – “Kim’s was the first show of its kind, and a first show is always going to make mistakes, but so we can grow as an industry , we have to learn from these mistakes, ”he told CBC News – the fact that the only non-Asian character Shannon is getting a spin-off may say more about the way than the industry, in Canada and in the United States, must travel.
It’s impossible not to wonder if Janet might have had spinoff potential if her plots had been brilliantly and authentically written by an Asian writer, instead of being dominated in a one-dimensional way by her fascination with an afterlife man. other. Or, for that matter, what happens to Umma, Appa, Jung and Janet. With the Kim family away arguing and laughing together while closing the book on their romances, careers, and retirements, KimBits will just have to imagine what could have been for Season 6 if the series had made a more diverse portrayal. behind the scenes. time priority.