Diversity in Dramaland: K-dramas and Racial Stereotypes

Backstreet Rookie

In many ways, I think the less time spent talking about SBS’s Backstreet Rookie, the better, but unfortunately, we need to talk about it because it has Problems. Big ones. And I don’t just mean the questionable casting, because—against all common sense and public conversation—this is the show that went one better and brought blackface back to 2020. A startling choice given the timing, against the backdrop of Korea’s own BLM movement and protests, and the growing discourse around how ethnic minorities are treated in Hallyu’s homeland. (Spoiler: it’s not great if you’re not light.)

The offending character is a webtoon artist, and he’s introduced to the viewer starting with a shot of his naked nethers in the shower—panning slowly upwards to his (fake) dreads. A few moments later, he emerges into his dank lair workroom where, surrounded by his own drawings of hot naked women, a crowd of flies swarm around his head. He then proceeds to pick a fly out of the dreads. “Live!” he tells it, releasing it back into the wild. Clearly, it’s intended to be funny—but not before you curl a lip in reflexive revulsion. It further compounds the picture with him drawing an intimate scene (while mostly naked, surrounded by naked drawings), and getting off on it in a way that wants to gross you out. In short, the purpose of the introduction is to make you see him as prurient. Vulgar. Dirty.

The distinctiveness of his character coupled with his distinctive visual (“blackness”, adopted or otherwise) acts to create an automatic association for the uncritical viewer, which is essentially how the social engineering of racist sentiment works (see: implicit bias). It’s impossible for it to be harmless because even if it is individually low-impact, it exists in the broader context of other such messaging. Repeat that process across a population, repeat the number of exposures, and at some point, that manufactured image becomes a universally accepted (and defended) truth. Even if we take the international perspective out of the picture, you’re still left with highly negative experiences of race if you’re Black in Korea, and this kind of portrayal can only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes—which lead to negative perceptions, which lead to discriminatory treatment in real life situations. In sum: drama portrayals have real-life consequences.

Backstreet Rookie

It’s unclear (from the first episode, at least) whether the character is actually meant to be Black, or if he’s adopted Black style. Ultimately, it’s an argument of splitting hairs, because whichever one it is, it’s a problem. If it’s the former, then it’s blackface. If it’s the latter, it’s appropriation.

But Blackness is not a costume. Blackness is not a punchline. If you sincerely want Blackness…then cast a Black man. You cannot divorce the Blackness from the man, and if you want to, that right there is the problem. Even if Korea was not a perpetrator in historic persecution against Black people such as in the US, blackface and appropriation of Black culture comes from a tradition of oppression and violence which continue to this day. By continuing the same practices, we uphold and maintain the same machinery that systematically targets and deprives Black people, and other people of colour, of basic rights.

Backstreet Rookie Update

I honestly can’t believe I have to update this article again because of Backstreet Rookie, because this week, this happened. I guess that answers my question about the Dal-shik character. I just feel so tired from endlessly talking about this and why it’s so wrong that instead of going into it for the umpteenth time, I direct you to some reading instead:

P.S. Kim Jae-wook is up there to relieve the tension by looking pretty. He is not representing stereotypes. HE IS GOOD.

When stereotypes strike

I originally wrote this piece as a reaction to last year’s Vagabond, the SBS-Netflix drama which had significant portions filmed on location in Morocco. I was totally seduced by the opening credits (action! thriller!), but it felt unpleasant to me from the very opening scene—from the brutish white gunman who keeps sniping racist comments at Lee Seung-gi, to Suzy turning up dressed in Muslim-style clothing as a disguise, only for the wind to whip her scarf/hijab away and reveal her. I felt that familiar clench again: How bad was this going to be? Would it be like The K2?

To Vagabond‘s credit, even if some places just look like the production team went, “Hey, how can we make this more…Morocco,” it does make a respectable effort, using local actors to play varying roles, from corrupt detectives and drug-runners to ordinary everyday citizens and civil servants—they’re not called upon to play villains or damsels alone, which automatically makes it better than nearly everything. They speak Arabic, English and Spanish, and the Korean cast give their best efforts at whichever language they’re called upon to use, and sometimes I even understood it. So it’s not all horror story, even if Suzy does use a Muslim prayer mat as a doormat.

Man Who Dies to Live

On the other hand, some shows can’t be redeemed. Until Backstreet Rookie, the most obvious and flagrant offender was the 2017 MBC drama, Man Who Dies To Live. In it, Choi Min-soo plays a character who, tired of his homeland, moves to a (fictional) Middle Eastern country where he gains the favour of the king and lives a life of luxury. He’s waited on hand and foot by the Arab natives, who make excellent props, while white women lounge by his pool in bikinis and hijabs, vying for his attention. Yup. Then, the king tries to force him to choose one of his three hot but demure, virginal, veiled-yet-sexy daughters to marry—and he MUST marry one or be punished. Choi has to escape this awful fate by running away all the way back to Korea, which I guess he didn’t hate so much after all.

It was appallingly tone-deaf in every possible way, from how the show chose to create its setting and depict its protagonist, to MBC’s response to viewer backlash—which was so severe that the show ended up being pulled from international providers. Everything worth saying about what was problematic about that show has already been said, so I won’t dwell on that. But the other side of the story was how the show tore the fandom in two, and as always, the legitimate discussion about its problematic portrayals was derailed and shut down by the emotions of people who did not want to hear that discussion, because “why can’t we all just be nice?” or “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it”.

It’s an old fight to fight when you’re part of a marginalised group, and constantly told that what you think and how you feel about how your avatars are portrayed don’t actually matter. But it does. It does matter. Just as how the simplistic representation of the Korean diasporic experience via Lane Kim in Gilmore Girls matters, or how Hollywood depicts Asians, Arabs, Black people and Muslims matters, how Korean dramas represent other cultures and people of colour also matters.

Another example can be found in Ji Chang-wook’s 2017 film, Fabricated City, where he randomly receives the help of a Black American couple. They are cartoonishly overjoyed to help him, and practically thank him for giving them the pleasure, in what feels like a grotesque iteration of the “jolly black woman” trope (“Mammy”), with all its accompanying “Magical Negro” and Black minstrelsy connotations. These are subtly racist stereotypes that still regularly play out in western media, and often fly beneath the radar for most viewers, even those with a vested interest. They seem harmless—even positive—until you notice that it’s a repeating pattern that ultimately serves to deprive those characters of a real story of their own. The fact is, stereotypes are shortcuts, and lazy ones at that. By providing a seemingly complex constellation of assumptions, they can stand in for nuanced storytelling and replace the role of research. It’s the blueprint for a plot device—tired, clichéd ones that have no humanity or real agency in them.

The K2

The ones that dismay me the most are the ones involving veiled women, and the raft of assumptions made about them. In The K2 (2016), Ji Chang-wook’s backstory takes him to Iraq where he’s a soldier for a private militia. He falls in love with their group’s translator, a beautiful veiled Iraqi woman called Rania who loves K-pop and Korea and is very much in need of saving, as all veiled women inevitably are, when they’re not busy being threats to society. Ji Chang-wook the white saviour proposes marriage and she says yes and whips off her hijab and they kiss, woohoo! Thus his proposal is rewarded. But then she’s killed, and to add insult to injury, the “Iraqi” woman is actually a very white woman, because who doesn’t love a bit of whitewashing? I mean, she’s dead, either way.

I very nearly dropped A Poem a Day over the Arab chaebol storyline. In that episode, a tycoon from Dubai visits the hospital and compliments one of the physios by likening her to a camel. “Her eyes are filled with purity and innocence, like those of a three-month old camel.” Really? You really think a Dubai chaebol has actually even ever seen a camel? This was followed up with a polygamy joke that wasn’t funny when the last 60,000 men said it and it will never be funny. It just won’t. Ever. Stop trying to make it happen. To top it all off, we also got our unveiling scene, where Lee Yubi peels off her all-black garb to reveal a glittering ensemble inside.

That part came well into its run, and I was only able to brush it off because of the goodwill and trust the show had built up with me in its preceding episodes (ultimately, I ended up really loving it). On the other hand: Miss Hammurabi (JTBC, 2018). I’d heard good things about it and felt in the mood to try it, but wow. They hit you with it right in episode 1, where Go Ara wants to make a genuinely important point to her boss, Judge Sung Dong-il, in a sexual harassment case of a female student. He snaps that the student shouldn’t have worn such a short skirt, and Go argues back that the molester is the one at fault for molesting. So what does she do to make her point? First she turns up extra glamorous and sets heads turning in a short skirt (L tries to protect her dignity):

Then her boss complains, so she changes into:

And then she sweetly asks, “Will this do? Which outfit would you rather I wore? The miniskirt or this?” Okay, girl. You don’t need to put other women’s wardrobe choices down to make your point, and second, you literally could have put on a chicken suit and made the same point to exactly the same effect—and don’t mistake me, that’s not a good thing. What does it mean when Muslim women’s clothing can be put in the same category as an animal costume? There are many layers of racism to this short scene (the “Indian” music, the other guy passing by who was absolutely terrified by her, that she used the outfit as a revenge-stunt) that I can’t even unpack it all right now, but it was so grossly offensive that I was done with the show then and there.

What’s so problematic about these scenes is that they punch down. It’s not the same as “Americans being shown as druggies again” (which, honestly, I find hilarious—now you know how it feels to get consistently bad rep, through no fault of your own!), because that doesn’t hurt anything except a few privileged people’s feelings. But we already know that in Europe and the US at least, negative depictions of Muslim-coded characters lead to huge spikes in hate crimes against actual Muslims. We know that the Korean public’s attitude towards outsiders is rough at best, but thanks to the proliferation of Western media, it’s particularly negative towards Arabs and Muslims. That’s nowhere better represented than in the image of a hijab-wearing woman. Women are always softer targets, and WOC and Muslim women are so much more so.

On the other hand, I remember a moment in Descendants of the Sun, which pleasantly surprised me for subverting how I expected the scene to go. A young doctor tries to treat a covering Muslim woman in a disaster zone, but she refuses the injection—and I have an “uh-oh” moment of sighing and wondering what backwardness we’re meant to expect now—is she going to refuse to show him her (broken) leg because he’s a man or something? So old, so tired, so bored of crappy turns. So imagine my surprise and, I admit, gratitude, when she pulls out an ultrasound photo and it turns out that the reason she refuses is because she’s pregnant. It’s a brief but touching scene that was as fraught for me as it was for them, if for different reasons.

Descendants of the Sun

However, despite that moment, Descendants also contains a whole matrix of problematic elements, especially its fictional quasi-Arab setting, which creates something of a conveniently blank canvas on which to project Korean nationalism, and consequently, unchallenged heroism, which is a topic for another day. (Read Anisa’s review of the drama for a more thorough and learned discussion on the topic.)

In 2017, the film Midnight Runners provoked strong protest from the ethnic Chinese community in Seoul for depicting their locale and community as vicious criminals. I actually loved that film at the time, and it didn’t occur to me that it was equally problematic: I hadn’t noticed what wasn’t immediately relevant to my sensitivities, and that’s a lesson. There’s no shame in needing something to be pointed out to you. But to continue to persist in creating, defending, or turning a blind eye to something once you become aware that it’s harmful—once you’ve been petitioned to please stop doing this because we can’t breathe—that sends a message we’re reading loud and clear.

Another scene that sticks in my mind is from Lawless Lawyer (tvN, 2018), where the scheming villainesses mock the name of a Thai immigrant employee. “We’ll just call you Mama,” they hoot. Of course, this is an intentionally horrible scene, but it aims to convey a general cruelty rather than specific racism, and so the racial weight of that moment can easily go unnoticed.

Lawless Lawyer

There’s a generally simplistic treatment of Southeast Asian characters across K-drama, where the men tend to be shown as gangsters, drug-dealers or smugglers, while the women are either the help, or in need of help. On the other hand, the white-collar professionals, foreign investors and CEOs tend to be shown as largely white (whether that’s American or Russian), with the occasional clearly defined Japanese/Arab/Chinese figures thrown in. While the migrant population of Korea is about 2% and includes a significant proportion of low-paid workers, these portrayals remain reductive and stereotypical at best, and an incomplete picture that does not acknowledge native Koreans of colour or mixed race, nor give them the complexity and individuality their homogeneous counterparts receive. Guzal Tursanova (a Korean national of Uzbek heritage) in one drama or a 30-second cameo from Sam Okyere every few years isn’t enough.

How to tell inclusive stories

So what is the solution? If K-dramas are at fault for not including much diversity, and slammed when they get it wrong, doesn’t that make them damned if they do and damned if they don’t?

I don’t think so. The fact is, how these storylines and characters are depicted is a choice. There are plenty of dramas that have been able to show diversity without a hint of Orientalism or xenophobia, and those shows are proof of just how much it is a choice, not a can’t-be-helped mistake. In My Strange Hero, Joel Roberts, who is Black, appears as a night-time convenience store part-timer who is just a person—not a prop, not a token, just someone living his life and being friends with Jo Boa. Itaewon Class (JTBC, 2020) went one better and featured Chris Lyon, a Black man, as a main character. I can’t comment on how well the show treated his character (or not) as I haven’t watched it, but the prominent casting itself feels like a step in the right direction.

Itaewon Class

Her Private Life has some delightful inserts in the fan café shots with a niqabi and a few hijabis, which is hilariously true to life. They’re background faces that acknowledge the true makeup of the fandom, and it gave me so much glee to see it, even though it was in no way prominent or even highlighted. It just was. It was there, they were part of the picture. Similarly how in Protect the Boss (2011), Choi Kang-hee prays even to Allah out of desperation, in a scene that flashes by but leaves you grinning. Just like how in an early episode of You’re Beautiful (2009), trainee nun Park Shin-hye hides from pursuit at the airport among a group of hijab-clad women, a habit among the jilbabs, and it’s so funny…but at nobody’s expense.

While not a drama, Netflix’s recent travel variety show Twogether has been giving me so much joy, and not just because of the adorable bromance and nonstop lols. It provides both sequel and spinoff to what Her Private Life began, as the boys travel across Asia meeting their fans, many of whom are visibly Muslim and very excited. The only thing it leaves me wanting is to see this same level of joyful interaction back home in Korea. Twogether was made with an international audience in mind, and Lee Seung-gi’s and Jasper Liu’s fanbases are largely eastern, which includes a lot of fans in majority-Muslim countries, so it’s not really a comparable dynamic.

Twogether

I don’t want to be too hard on K-dramas: it’s a good thing to see Dramaland diversify, and since they’re still in the early stages of finding their way, I’m willing to roll with most things and would rather find the humour in it. But I won’t say it’s not disturbing to see exactly the same patterns and problems of Western representation play out in Korean shows, where the Korean character is easily slipped into the “white saviour” role, with all its attendant assumptions. The main assumption, just like in Western media, is the one of ethno-cultural superiority. It’s even more frustrating because such representations are clearly imported—not only through the more recent proliferation of Western media, but as a lasting effect of decades of American imperialism in the region since the Korean War—with little to no basis in Korean lived experience.

The uncritical adoption of such stereotypes becomes a dangerously lazy route which ends up perpetuating the same problems that riddle Hollywood. I’m still grateful that Vagabond‘s plane-downing terrorists weren’t non-Korean (or worse, Arab). To me, that’s still a big win and encapsulates the reason why K-drama remains an infinitely better experience for me. But I worry what the future holds, then, for K-drama intentionally made for an international audience, and whether they will model themselves on the same problematic media that made me seek refuge in K-drama in the first place.

Thanks to the global success of Hallyu, we can no longer argue that K-drama is made exclusively for a domestic audience, because that’s patently untrue. But that might also hold the answers about why some dramas do it really well while others really don’t. Cable channels like tvN do it better, and their missteps are forgivable and even highly entertaining (like Misaeng and the extremely wrong Muslim prayer scene haha). The worst offenders seem to be broadcast channels, which perhaps tend towards tapping the domestic mainstream rather than the global. As a homogeneous country that has only recently opened itself up to the world, mistakes are to be expected. But if we can have Crash Landing on You, which consulted with North Korean defectors for accuracy and authenticity, we can do the same for other dramas. As long as there’s evidence that a show tried in good faith—i.e. with research and conscience—I guarantee I’ll be there with goodwill. But I think we also need to be there to call a show out when it crosses the line, because that’s what it means to be a sincere fan. The feedback loop is our voice, and it’s how we can change the story into something richer and more inclusive, and ultimately? We get a better story. Win/win.

Her Private Life

In conclusion, I think it’s important to realise that the world of dramas is a microcosm of real life and the wider world. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is it a self-subsisting world in itself. As such, dramas are a reflection—good or bad—of the current social climates, and its tides change along with the real world. Sometimes, Dramaland responds to real life, and other times, it sets the agenda. That’s the nature of the relationship between art and life. I think the aim for artists should be to have a sense of social responsibility when it comes to depicting already marginalised groups. Art has always been political, and so it must also have a conscience, and it cannot come at the expense of those already besieged.

Inevitably, in discussions that involve asking people to examine their implicit biases and censor their explicit racism, the question of freedom of expression comes up. I’ve been thinking about freedom a lot lately, and whether we are artists or consumers of art, I think we need to interrogate ourselves about which freedoms we value more: freedom to, or freedom from. Freedom to is a function of the upper hand: freedom to do something which will have an effect on someone else. Freedom to say or write or create what we want without being called to account for it.

Freedom from is the prayer of the oppressed. Freedom from is the fulfilment of a need. Freedom from oppression. Freedom from violence. Freedom from harm. Freedom from fear. Once we attain freedom from, only then can we achieve the freedom to: freedom to exist in the fullness of who we are and can be, authentically and with dignity.

This essay was written with the invaluable feedback and advice of my pals and podcast co-hosts, Anisa and Paroma. Don’t miss our podcast special on representation, race, and identity.

If you’re new to Dramas Over Flowers, don’t forget to check out our podcasts for regular critical discussions on currently airing dramas and news.

25 thoughts on “Diversity in Dramaland: K-dramas and Racial Stereotypes

Add yours

  1. Saya this is a brilliant piece about why it matters how poc’s are depicted in fictional work. In the past we were so accustomed to the negative portrayal of non-Eurocentric characters that we subconsciously accepted it. But as you say there are real life consequences of depicting incorrect stereotypes and so glad to see you address it in such a comprehensive way.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it!

      It’s so true – I feel like in the past, there was an attitude that accepting the racism was part of the package of being ‘allowed’ to be in the West. I’ve read people who discuss this – I think Hasan Minhaj has also covered it somewhere – how in first gen immigrants, there’s an attitude of just having to tolerate certain things. But the kids – second gen and beyond, they feel very differently because their identities are tied differently. Their two halves are spread in less clear-cut ways, so we’re torn between belonging and unbelonging, inside and outside. So it makes sense that we are having this conversation more loudly and more publicly now. Hopefully with better ends!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks so much for writing this and publishing it. I also found the podcast to be very powerful. As a second generation Korean American, I have found Kdramas to be particularly empowering because I can finally see other Koreans portrayed with so much diversity and nuance. I’ve pretty much given up on mainstream American media because of the paucity of representation of POCs in positive or nuanced roles. So when I watch a Kdrama like Encounter (set in Cuba), or Descendants of the Sun, or Vagabond, it’s painful for me to watch the shallow and stereotypical portrayals of non Koreans. I really hope Kdramas incorporate more characters like Tony from Itaewon Class—and when they choose to film in other non Korean locales, they take care to incorporate characters who aren’t caricatures.

        Thanks again for the excellent essay and podcast!

        Like

  2. Dramaland really needs this right now.

    I think the most disappointing thing about the controversy regarding the show I refuse to mention, is that there’s no ambiguity or subtlety about its racism. It’s one of the most overtly obviously racist things I’ve seen in Korean dramas (that originally read “on Korean television” but we all know that’s not true).
    But there are still people who don’t understand why it’s racist. It makes me realise that the more subtle and insidious racism embedded in Korean texts is washing over them completely – and that includes the Korean version of whitewashing where whole texts pretend that people who aren’t Korean just don’t exist.

    Someone asked me about feminism in Korean dramas once and I had to admit that it’s the Korean version of
    White Feminism: a feminism that assumes a monolithic and dichotomous patriarchy vs women equation without needing to bother itself with issues of race, queerness or other confounding factors – except perhaps some socioeconomic issues. It’s basically the JK Rowling school of feminism. As a white feminist myself it’s a trap I’m constantly in danger of walking into. I really appreciate all the work you guys do in speaking up on these issues. It’s something we need to be reminded of and I really don’t see that Korea should get out of jail free on any of these issues.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, I feel like the point that is often lost on people who disagree is that we come at the topic from a place of love. I don’t believe – and I flat-out think it’s *wrong* to believe – that the only way, or the only *right* way, to show love is with dogmatic, blind support. That’s like giving your kid whatever they want because they want it. That doesn’t make a good, moral, socially-conscious human being, that makes a monster, and it makes everyone else minions.

      Entertainment deserves critical engagement, and often that can be what elevates it from being a flat, 2D text into something textured, deep and multi-dimensional. But also, I’ve made peace with the fact that some people just don’t want discourse, and at that point, you just have to part ways because it’s a futile expenditure of everyone’s energy.

      At the same time, I think we do need to take care when it comes to how we deliver that critique, or what expectations we have of it. Understanding the way racism works actually can be very difficult to someone who’s never experienced the idea before. There’s a great post on the reddit thread from one of the moderators which captures this perfectly, hold on, let me find it…aha here: https://www.reddit.com/r/KDRAMA/comments/hnf7oy/diversity_in_dramalandkdramas_and_racial/fxbt9om/

      This is why I’m willing to hold on for things to get better. Not perhaps with this specific drama, but for things in general. Being able to view racism as I do now required a lot of work and a paradigm shift in my own thinking – and that’s for someone who has literally experienced racism her whole life! I know not everyone can wait, and that’s okay, but I think beneficiaries of racism ought to wait a little longer and work a little harder to carry that burden so POC don’t have to. (which is not a comment aimed at you, but a general thought!)

      Thank you as always for reading and being a good friend!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks kfangurl! It was hard but worth it. My hope is to be able to use this post as a point of reference for the rest of my life so we don’t have to keep making the same explanations over and over! That’s 10 minutes you could be using on cake, and I always prefer cake to conflict.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I was pretty pleased over all with vagabond as muslim black audience participant. I felt like for the most part they respected the culture and didn’t have veiled women playing damsel in distress roles all the time etc. When I saw suzy in hijab I was actually extremely excited and happy that they portrayed her covered up, despite scenes of it constantly flying off lol. I felt as though the reason the character was wearing to begin with was just out of simple respect for the culture and to blend in with locals. which for me doesn’t bother me at all. I was considering watching backstreet rookie but now I leery. it looks pretty awful

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are so many better dramas – my podpals recommend Search WWW as an ideal antidote to BR!

      My criticism for what they did with Suzy there is similar to the problems around blackface. It treats Muslim clothing as a disguise – i.e. a costume. To be fair, it was quite mildly done and the only point I felt it crossed the line was in the opening scene (because of the exoticism and Orientalist overtones) – she’s “veiled” in clearly Muslim clothing yet also definitely sexy. That’s what I object to. Muslim women have a hard enough time protecting their right to dress in a way that they see as protecting their modesty, yet we have to fight against this determination to sexualise clothes that mean the absolute opposite. Nobody wants an outside force to impose those meanings on their sacred things, be that Muslim or otherwise.

      The rest of the show, they didn’t do too badly – it was kind of fun seeing Lee Seung-gi in a jalabah, but they also tried a little too hard to be VERY MOROCCO which was entertaining. Also when Suzy dressed like a native later, it was more natural and how you described – blending in with the locals and adopting local ways, and actually meant something narratively.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. just wow i loved the amount of detail and effort put into this! as someone who is black and muslim i often get angry at scenes that are just so incredibly stupid that represent us in such a bad way. Thank you sooo much for writing this great article! also there’s a scene in Prison Playbook where the main lead reads Quran, Bible, Torah and a lot of other religious books, and he calls the Quran Conan on accident. Would you think of that as actual comedy or subtle hints of racism? i personally wasn’t offended, just glad the Quran was mentioned in the first place. But i know other people might think otherwise. your thoughts?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Salaam Salma, thanks for your comment! I haven’t watched PP (yet), but I saw the clip and it was absolutely hilarious. I think that’s definitely an example of it being done well: it had a moment of deliberate misinformation due to one character’s ignorance, and then set right via another character’s knowledge, and with that, creating a very funny moment for whoever understood the reference. Overall, it proved that the writers knew what they were doing with that scene and with those words, and I think that’s what we always want. Not for people to either pander or insult with nothing in between, but simply to engage – and hey, if they wink at us, we are winking the heck back!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks SAYA for the deep analysis. I got to admit I’ve always brushed it off as ‘just a part of the story’. But after reading this post it all makes sense now. I can’t really say which dramas but I’ve seen it a few times like how TONY’S grandmother reacted when she heard her son had fallen for an African woman in ITAEWAN CLASS

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Martin, and it’s really great to hear that reading this has made you look at dramas you’ve seen differently! Honestly, that’s my only hope. I don’t think we can change the drama scene until we in the fandom can unanimously agree on what isn’t acceptable.

      I haven’t watched IC myself, but what you describe doesn’t sound bad in itself – I think it’s actually really useful for dramas to confront racism, BUT: they have to finish what they start. i.e. if we have a character of colour who experiences racism, then at some point, it has to be acknowledged and addressed. It doesn’t even matter if, say, the characters handle it badly, as long as the commentary is there. ‘This is discriminatory behaviour and this person who is enacting it is doing something wrong.’ You never want to see that kind of thing dismissed, or worse, rewarded.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. True and true. I mentioned that scene because at the time I watched it, it left me second-guessing my being a Kdrama fan. “What if the people I enjoy seing on my screen doesn’t see me as a fellow human being?”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? It makes you feel very differently when the question comes ‘home’. Which is precisely why we keep having – and needing to have – these conversations. If we could have empathy with the person or people at the butt of the ‘joke’, maybe we’d rethink the joke.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great read, Saya! I didn’t know anything about Backstreet Rookie until now, so I clicked the link and… sigh. It’s terrible, frustrating, and humiliating. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect better from our shows.

    Liked by 3 people

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