Kim’s Convenience Actors Reveal Lack of Korean Writers Led to Behind-The-Scenes Cultural Insensitivity and Racism

The cast of Kim's Convenience. From left to right: Simu Liu, Jean Yoon, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Andrea Bang.

Just days after Season 5 of Kim’s Convenience dropped for American audiences, actors Simu Liu (Jung) and Jean Yoon (Umma) have revealed serious behind-the-scenes problems that plagued the making of the Asian Canadian sitcom.

Most notably, Yoon tweeted that for most of the show’s five seasons, there were no Asian female or Korean writers involved in crafting the show’s scripts, which made the experience of working on the show “painful” for her.

Kim’s Convenience is based on a play by playwright Ins Choi that starred both Yoon and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. In 2016, it formed the basis for the CBC sitcom by the same name in which both Yoon and Lee reprised their roles as Umma and Appa. While Choi remained attached to the sitcom for its early seasons, Kevin White was the show’s showrunner. According to Yoon, no other Korean writers were part of the show’s main writing staff, and no Korean cultural resources provided to writers to ensure authenticity.

“[White] clearly set the parameters,” said Yoon in a tweet last week, noting that Choi’s presence diminished over the show’s run, which became a “crisis” by the end of Season 4. Under White’s control, several offensive and culturally insensitive scenes and plot points were written into the scripts; some, says Yoon, were only removed when the cast objected.

Yoon describes one scene in an earlier Season 5 episode draft in which Yoon’s Umma is unaware that a pair of nude pants makes her appear naked.

No one, esp. Mrs. Kim, would be unaware that a garment makes her look naked. Unless she is suddenly cognitively impaired. or STUPID. Stripping someone naked is the first act before public humiliation or rape. So what was so funny about that? At my request, Mr. Choi cut he scene.

THAT scene would have aired hours after 8 people, 6 Asian women, were shot in Atlanta, GA in a hate crime spree that shocked the nation. THIS IS WHY IT MATTERS. If an Asian actor says, ‘Hey this isn’t cool,’ then maybe should just fix it, and say THANK YOU.

Jean Yoon

Yoon goes on to note that without her own input, all of the references to Korean food – which features heavily throughout the show – would have been wrong.

What I find tragic about this situation was the refusal to believe the urgency with which we advocated for inclusion in the writers room. The failure to send us treatments, outlines, the resistance to cultural corrections & feedback.

There is so much I am proud of. But S3 & S4 in particular had many moments of dismissal & disrespect as an actor, where it mattered, with the writers. And the more successfully I advocated for my character, the more resistance and suspicion I earned from the Writers/Producers.

Jean Yoon

Yoon was tweeting in response to criticism of castmate Simu Liu, who had penned his own lengthy statement on Facebook explaining why Kim’s Convenience had been cancelled and would not be returning. In his post Liu notes that the show cannot be saved because the producers – who hold the intellectual property rights for the show and its characters – are not interested in continuing with the show. Like Yoon, Liu also expressed disappointment in the way the show’s white producers ignored input from its Asian cast.

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.

…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.

Simu Liu

“I remain fixated on the missed opportunities to show Asian characters with real depth and the ability to grow and evolve,” added Liu.

Liu confirmed the lack of Asian representation in the writing room, as well as the poor rates paid to the show’s stellar cast.

Our writer’s room lacked both East Asian and female representation, and also lacked a pipeline to introduce diverse talents. Aside from Ins, there were no other Korean voices in the room. And personally I do not think he did enough to be a champion for those voices (including ours).

Simu Liu

Read Liu’s full statement here.

Liu and Yoon’s revelations paint a picture of cultural exploitation at Kim’s Convenience – one in which the show’s predominantly white producers mined Korean culture and its cast of Korean characters to create an increasingly inauthentic pantomime of the Korean Canadian experience: caricatures of Asian stories lent credibility with Asian faces. To accomplish this, the only Korean voices in the room were the actors, whom it seems producers preferred to be silent and obedient. Both Yoon and Liu say the actors were marginalized when they spoke up to ensure that the show remained true to its Asian Canadian origins.

When that proved no longer possible, the producers cancelled the show. How telling that the show’s only non-Asian character – Shannon, played by Nicole Power – is the only character who will be getting a spin-off show.

Ultimately, this story once again reveals how the lack of diversity behind the camera is just as important as diversity in front of it. It is not enough to want the mere appearance of diversity: we must continue to fight for the substance of it, as well.

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