‘Kim’s Convenience’ stars decry ‘overtly racist’ storylines, lack of representation
“Kim’s Convenience” has officially closed up shop, and its stars are opening up about their frustrations with the show’s approach to Korean Canadian representation behind and in front of the camera.
After the hit CBC sitcom debuted its fifth and final season last week on Netflix, actors Simu Liu and Jean Yoon voiced their concerns regarding the series’ “overwhelmingly white” production team, “horsepoop” pay and “overtly racist” storylines, among other alleged grievances.
Based on actor and playwright Ins Choi’s stage production of the same name, “Kim’s Convenience” premiered in 2016 and centered on a Korean Canadian family operating a convenience store in Toronto. In the show, Liu — star of Marvel’s highly anticipated “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” — portrayed Yoon’s on-screen son, Jung.
“I’ve heard a lot of speculation surrounding myself — specifically, about how getting a Marvel role meant I was suddenly too ‘Hollywood’ for Canadian TV,” Liu remarked Thursday in a lengthy Facebook post reflecting on the end of the program.
“This could not be further from the truth. I love this show and everything it stood for. I saw firsthand how profoundly it impacted families and brought people together. It’s truly SO RARE for a show today to have such an impact on people, and I wanted very badly to make the schedules work.”
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After setting the record straight about his career trajectory, Liu expressed disappointment with the way that he and his character were treated as the series progressed.
“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,” he said. “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. ... there was deliberately not a lot of leeway given to us.”
Liu also sounded off on “Strays,” the forthcoming spinoff series spotlighting Jung’s work supervisor, Shannon, played by Nicole Power. The offshoot is set to premiere in September on the CBC.
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“I love and am proud of Nicole, and I want the show to succeed for her... but I remain resentful of all of the circumstances that led to the one non-Asian character getting her own show,” Liu wrote. “And not that they would ever ask, but I will adamantly refuse to reprise my role in any capacity.”
In an email to The Times, the CBC said Tuesday, “It’s not our place to speak for the producers of Kim’s Convenience, Simu Liu or Jean Yoon,” and suggested contacting Thunderbird Entertainment, the production company behind the series.
“Kim’s Convenience had a great run on CBC and we’re excited about Simu’s new project which we announced last week,” a spokesperson for the CBC added. The network recently confirmed that “Hello (Again),” a short-form original series co-created by Liu and Nathalie Younglai, has joined its programming slate for the fall.
In addition to creative differences, Liu claimed that he and his “Kim’s Convenience” castmates were purposefully and grossly underpaid in comparison to other popular shows such as “Schitt’s Creek,” which boasted “brand-name talent” but received lower ratings than “Kim’s Convenience,” according to Liu.
“For how successful the show actually became, we were paid an absolute horsepoop rate,” he wrote. “The whole process has really opened my eyes to the relationship between those with power and those without. In the beginning, we were no-name actors who had ZERO leverage. So of course we were going to take anything we could. ...
“Basically we were locked in for the foreseeable future at a super-low rate ... But we also never banded together and demanded more — probably because we were told to be grateful to even be there, and because we were so scared to rock the boat. Maybe also because we were too busy infighting to understand that we were deliberately being pitted against each other. Meanwhile, we had to become the de facto mouthpieces for the show (our showrunners were EPICALLY reclusive), working tirelessly to promote it while never truly feeling like we had a seat at its table.”
Shortly after Liu shared his thoughts on social media, a television critic for Canada’s Globe and Mail dismissed his comments as “unfair” and “mean-spirited,” prompting Yoon to defend her costar on Twitter.
While both Liu and Yoon credited Korean Canadian artist Choi with introducing the Kim family to mainstream audiences, they also alleged that his influence over the series was eclipsed by a dearth of Korean representation behind the scenes.
“Your attack on my cast mate @SimuLiu, in the defense of my fellow Korean artist Ins Choi is neither helpful nor merited,” Yoon replied to the Globe and Mail’s rebuke of Liu’s statements. “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 scene partners also addressed the alleged absence of diversity on the “Kim’s Convenience” writing team, which “lacked both East Asian and female representation,” as well as “a pipeline to introduce diverse talents,” according to Liu.
“Aside from Ins, there were no other Korean voices in the room,” Liu wrote. “And personally I do not think he did enough to be a champion for those voices (including ours). When he left (without so much as a goodbye note to the cast), he left no protege, no padawan learner, no Korean talent that could have replaced him.”
“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,” Yoon tweeted.
Despite trying “so hard” to make himself available as a creative resource, Liu said efforts made by him and others to improve the show from the inside were dismissed. Without adequate input from talent of Korean descent, Yoon added that the show’s authenticity suffered.
“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,” Yoon tweeted.
“My prior experience had taught me that if I just put myself out there enough, people would be naturally inclined to help,” Liu wrote. “And boy was I wrong here. I wasn’t the only one who tried. Many of us in the cast were trained screenwriters with thoughts and ideas that only grew more seasoned with time. But those doors were never opened to us in any meaningful way.”
Representatives for Choi and Thunderbird Entertainment did not immediately respond to The Times’ requests for comment.
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