The K-dramas take a step forward, two steps back in the representation of other cultures

A scene from the tvN drama ″ Shooting Stars ″ (2022) [TVN]

TvN’s romantic comedy series “Sh ** ting Stars,” which aired its finale on Saturday, was targeted for scenes that contain racist depictions of foreign cultures from episode one.

The series is about a PR persona named Oh Han-byul played by actor Lee Sung-kyung, who develops a love-hate relationship with his talent agency celebrity Gong Tae-sung, played by actor Kim Young- dae.

Three minutes after the start of the series, viewers realize that the male lead Tae-sung has gone to “Africa” ​​as a volunteer. The specific country in Africa he goes to is not mentioned. The screen switches to the image of a steaming red sun rising, galloping giraffes, meerkats turning their heads and a lion chasing a glow of zebras as the theme song for “The Lion King” plays.

The shot is aimed at Tae-sung who is surrounded by villagers watching as a drilling rig is drilled into the ground until the water gushes and everyone cheers.

“Now you can drink clean water!” shouts Tae-sung with both arms raised in victory.

Many viewers, especially foreigners watching the drama, were baffled by the blatant misrepresentation of Africa on the show, tweeting comments like “Africa is not a country!” and “This portrait of Africa looked like a Korean version of ‘The White Man’s Burden'”.

A scene from the tvN drama ″ Sh ** ting Stars ″ (2022)

It goes without saying that Africa cannot simply be summed up as a developing continent that needs people with lighter skin color to wipe them out and save them.

There are 54 countries in Africa. Libya was included in the top five fastest growing economies in the world in 2021, based on IMF projections for April 2021. The number of middle-class Africans has tripled over the past 30 years to 313 million people, according to a report from the African Development Bank in 2021. This means that every third person is considered middle class.

This drama has nothing to do with Africa and the fact that Tae-sung went there to volunteer is not an essential part of the plot, which is based on the romance in the office between a celebrity and her advertiser. . What the scene is aimed at is to portray Tae-sung as someone who is kind, intelligent, heroic and worthy of worship.

The scene is particularly disappointing as the network temporarily offered its services in South Africa last year, via tvN Africa.

When asked to comment on the controversy, Studio Dragon, the production company behind “Sh ** ting Stars,” declined to comment.

The explanations behind these scenes are rarely ill-intentioned, but the lack of knowledge or the effort to accurately describe them is certainly no excuse.

A scene from SBS ″ Penthouse 3 ″ (2021) [SBS]

A scene from SBS ″ Penthouse 3 ″ (2021) [SBS]

Last year, actor Park Eun-seok released a shoddy apology statement on his TikTok account after dressing up in an outrageous costume to play an African American in SBS’s “Penthouse 3” (2021), writing that “none of the The character’s appearances were intended to cause harm, mock, disrespect or discourage the African American community, “and he continued that it was” more an admiration for the culture than a mockery. ”

Park had appeared in an episode of the series with dreadlocks, tattoos painted on his face and body, grids on his teeth and wrapped in thick chains and gold rings, while speaking in what appears to be “black”, which can be defined as speaking. in a way that mimics or teases the African American vernacular from a person who is not African American.

A scene from ″ Ms.  Hammurabi ″ (2018) [SCREEN CAPTURE]

A scene from ″ Ms. Hammurabi ″ (2018) [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“Penthouse 3” and “Sh ** ting Stars” are just two of the many Korean dramas that include racist portrayals of foreign cultures.

To cite a few more examples, the JTBC legal drama “Ms. Hammurabi ”(2018) used the burka as a point of humor; “Man Who Die to Live” (2017) featured women wearing bikini hijabs; and KBS’s “Descendants of the Sun” (2016) called a dark-skinned child “Blackey”.

A scene from KBS's ″ Descendants of the Sun ″ (2016) [SCREEN CAPTURE]

A scene from KBS’s ″ Descendants of the Sun ″ (2016) [SCREEN CAPTURE]

“In the context of globalization, dramatic production companies need to better represent other cultures without prejudice and stereotypes,” said cultural critic Jeong Deok-hyun. “Often it is not intentional, but it comes from ignorance.”

He also pointed out that production companies often don’t like publicly acknowledging these problems when they happen. “If the controversy occurs in Korea, the production companies usually deal with it by making public statements, but that’s not the case with matters that occur overseas.”

A scene from SBS’s “Backstreet Rookie” (2020) [SBS]

SBS’s “Backstreet Rookie”, which aired in 2020, was another drama that sparked reactions from international viewers for racist scenes when a character appeared with dreadlocks and painted his skin to make it look darker. . The drama has also sparked controversy locally, but due to sexually and verbally inappropriate scenes.

The Korea Communications Standards Commission has issued a drama warning for airing provocative and inappropriate scenes in response to scenes involving offensive slang, a minor kissing a grown man, and a character moaning while drawing an adult webtoon. No warnings were given for scenes involving racist depictions.

Of the dramas mentioned in this article, only MBC’s “Man Who Dies to Live” issued a public statement of apology for its inadequate representations of Islamic culture.

Some Korean content in recent times has been more inclusive and sensitive.

The JTBC drama “Itaewon Class”, which aired in early 2020, tactfully incorporated issues of discrimination into its storyline by highlighting the realities of racism in Korean society.

TvN’s “Our Blues”, which concluded on June 12, was also praised for its respectful portrayals of minorities, especially the disabled, and for actually hiring actors with Down syndrome and people with hearing problems.

A scene from tvN’s “Itaewon Class” (2020) [SCREEN SHOT]

However, the recent scenes from “Sh ** ting Stars” seem like a step backwards.

“We need to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of other cultures. Just as Korea wants its culture to be adequately portrayed in the media of other countries, we should also accurately represent them,” said Jeong.

BY LEE JIAN [[email protected]]