When the 5th and final season of Kim's Convenience began streaming worldwide on Netflix, Simu Liu published a lengthy Facebook calling out the bad faith, racial bias and lack of diversity that led to the exploitation and abuse of the Asian cast and cancellation of the show.
On Monday, John Doyle, the TV critic for The Globe and Mail, published a column criticizing Liu for calling out Kim's Convenience creator Ins Choi and the producers, calling it unfair. Doyle expressed particular sympathy for Choi and deeming Liu's post "mean-spirited". He cited that Choi had a "written by" credit on all 65 episodes of the show, and 13 female writers had also been credited, as it that refuted the "lack of diversity" charge Liu brought against the show. Doyle also criticized Liu for what he thinks of as over-identifying with the character he played in several passive-aggressive digs that suggest a critic's contempt for actors while elevating the role of writers.
Kim's Convenience: Jean Yoon Speaks
This prompted Liu's co-star Jean Yoon to respond to Doyle on Twitter where she not only defended Liu's position but also spilled details on what really happened in the writing of the show. Yoon played Umma, the mother of Liu's character Jung on the show. She effectively and politely told Doyle that he didn't know what he was talking about:
"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
"Your attack on my cast mate @SimuLiu, in the defense of my fellow Korean artist Ins Choi is neither helpful nor merited. Mr. Choi wrote the play, I was in it. He created the TV show, but his co-creator Mr. Kevin White was the showrunner, and clearly set the parameters."
"This is a FACT that was concealed from us as a cast. It was evident from Mr. Choi's diminished presence on set, or in response to script questions. Between S4 and S5, this FACT became a crisis, and in S5 we were told Mr. Choi was resuming control of the show."
"The cast received drafts of all S5 scripts in advance of shooting BECAUSE of Covid, at which time we discovered storylines that were OVERTLY RACIST, and so extremely culturally inaccurate that the cast came together and expressed concerns collectively."
Liu replied to Yoon's tweet that Doyle had blocked him: "I think he blocked me so I wouldn't be able to respond!!"
Yoon has played Umma since the original stage version of Kim's Convenience, back when it was a little fringe theatre production that could. Playwright and creator Ins Choi wrote the play to not only represent a Korean-Canadian perspective but also to give himself a role to play that the Canadian industry didn't – he played Jung in the original production, the role that Simu Liu took over when the TV series launched. Yoon herself is an accomplished playwright, having written several plays for the Canadian theatre.
The Diversity Problem in TV Representation
The show's official Twitter account posted screenshots of social media posts from "South Asian award-winning writer and co-executive producer" Anita Kapila responding to claims about lack of representation behind the scenes. "I loved working with every single writer who came into Kim's Convenience room, but today I want to publicly acknowledge the women and BIPOC I was honoured to work alongside. I'm sorry if I've forgotten anyone — please blame it on vaccination mind fog." She listed the following 13 female writers: Clara Altimas, Nadiya Chettiar, Carly Stone, Sonja Bennett, Amelia Haller, Rebecca Kohler, Jean Kim, Barbara Mamabolo, Kat Sandler, Sophie Marsh, Zlatina Pacheva, Allan Reoch, and Shebli Zarghami.
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
This appears to be the show's producers attempting damage control by trotting out a response to Yoon's tweets. There's a big fallacy here: the Kim's producers assumed that just because they got more than one female South Asian writer in the writer's room, they were covered when South Asian writers are from a completely different culture from East Asians. An indian or Pakistani-Canadian writer is highly unlikely to know anything about Korean culture unless they spent time living there or know Koreans intimately. Of 12 female writers in the Kim's writer's room, only one seemed to be East Asian or Korean-Canadian. While a blanket diversity was covered in the staffing of the show, the lack of representation of writers of Korean background meant there was a lack of authenticity in the writing, prompting Jean Yoon's revelation that there were overtly racist storylines. Western and white production companies have a tendency to view "Asian" as a single monoculture and assume that just because they hired a few Asian names, they would have their diversity box ticked. They often neglect to have writers from the actual cultural background of the characters and setting, and the result is often inauthentic stories and details. Kim's Convenience is now streaming on Netflix.
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