Stars Simu Liu and Jean Yoon Address Racist Issues With Kim’s Convenience
The 2016 Canadian series Kim’s Convenience was a trailblazing sitcom as one of the few series on television centered around a working-class Korean-Canadian family in Toronto. The cast of the show were parents “Appa” (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and “Umma” (Jean Yoon), their daughter Janet (Andrea Bang), and estranged son Jung (Simu Liu). Sadly, the series was canceled after this latest season and some stars from the series are speaking out over the workplace environment that they experienced there.
Simu Liu, who will be playing Shang-Chi in the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, first spoke out in a Facebook post:
Among the many things he noted, Liu said dispelled rumors that he was “too big” for Canadian TV and that working on the Marvel film made him no longer want to be a part of Kim’s Convenience.
“I WAS, however, growing increasingly frustrated with the way my character was being portrayed and, somewhat related, was also increasingly frustrated with the way I was being treated. I think this is a natural part of a collaborative undertaking like making a TV show; everyone is going to have different ideas on where each character ought to go, what stories ought to be told. But it was always my understanding that the lead actors were the stewards of character, and would grow to have more creative insight as the show went on.
This was not the case on our show, which was doubly confusing because our producers were overwhelmingly white and we were a cast of Asian Canadians who had a plethora of lived experiences to draw from and offer to writers. But we were often told of the next seasons’ plans mere days before we were set to start shooting… there was deliberately not a lot of leeway given to us. Imagine my disappointment year after year knowing that Jung was just stuck at Handy and in absolutely no hurry to improve himself in any way. More importantly, the characters never seemed to grow. I can appreciate that the show is still a hit and is enjoyed by many people… but I remain fixated on the missed opportunities to show Asian characters with real depth and the ability to grow and evolve.”
I am always doubtful of that sort of speculation of “too good for television” when it comes to any BIPOC actor who leaves a regular job in a series to pursue a Hollywood career unless they are on Regé-Jean Page levels of popularity. This is a fickle industry and if Viola Davis has time for How to Get Away With Murder and still do Fences, well then who is really above it? And television is one of the popular formats now, with some of the most interesting properties. What usually impacts BIPOC actors is feeling limited and underserved in the space that they are occupying.
Actress Jean Yoon appeared to co-sign the experience that Liu brought up when another white television critic brought up that the show did have Asian female writers.
“Dear sir, as an Asian Canadian woman, a Korean-Canadian woman w/ more experience and knowledge of the world of my characters, the lack of Asian female, especially Korean writers in the writers room of Kims made my life VERY DIFFICULT & the experience of working on the show painful,” she wrote on Twitter.
Dear sir, as an Asian Canadian woman, a Korean-Canadian woman w more experience and knowledge of the world of my characters, the lack of Asian female, especially Korean writers in the writers room of Kims made my life VERY DIFFICULT & the experience of working on the show painful
— Jean Yoon (윤 진 희 or 尹真姬) (@jean_yoon) June 6, 2021
The official Kim’s Convenience Twitter account shared screenshots of a post from Anita Kapila, who worked on the comedy’s first season, that highlighted the women and BIPOC involved in the series including Clara Altimas, Nadiya Chettiar, Carly Stone, Jean Kim, Shelbi Zarghami, and many others.
Anita Kapila is a South Asian award-winning writer and co-executive producer, and has worked on Kim’s Convenience since the first season. pic.twitter.com/L2O9soBGlo
— Kim’s Convenience (@KimsConvenience) June 7, 2021
I don’t really know how showing that the writer’s room was filled with women, but not Korean women, helps with this particular situation? Especially when that means throwing a South Asian woman into the fire.
Yes, there were Asian women, but we are talking about a specific kind of experience that was East Asian/Korean.
The experiences as shared by Simu Liu and Jean Yoon are upsetting on multiple levels, especially that when speaking out about this there was a “you should be happy you have this much” energy. That because Liu is Asian he should be glad for the scraps of representation. Addressing a lack of specific representation in a writer’s room about a series focusing on that isn’t asking for a lot.
Not to mention the fact that a spin-off, Strays, will feature the show’s white lead character makes this all the more difficult to watch. Because even when you make it to being a literal superhero, if you are BIPOC, it just means some people think you should be even quieter.
(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: CBC)
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