Our Diverse 100: Meet So Yong Kim, the director who struggles to see people like herself in the industry

Director So Yong Kim.
Director So Yong Kim. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Kim’s debut feature in 2006, “In Between Days,” nabbed her the special jury prize at Sundance that year. Her other features, 2008’s “Na-moo-eobs-neun san,” 2012’s “For Ellen” and this year’s “Lovesong” were also critics’ favorites across the country at festivals large and small. This Q&A is part of a special series examining diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Read more profiles here.

Were you surprised by the Oscar nominations this year?

It just seemed like a repeat of what’s happened before. I guess particularly with what happened with “Selma.” Though there was an outcry the year before, things haven’t changed. So it seemed like the same old, same old.

Do you even pay attention to the Oscar nominations?

You know, I think it does matter. It’s like the president or something: It matters that Barack Obama is the president. With a long-term perspective and in the historical sense. But I am also hindered by my cultural background, and it’s my crutch, which is culturally I’m a Korean American woman whose job is to be beautiful and you don’t say anything against the mainstream, you follow the Confucian teachings of traditional respect. It’s very hard for me to be proactive, to be activist in a way, but I do believe in doing things that are hopefully better in the future for the younger generations coming up.

When you were getting started, was there anyone you saw and thought, “That person looks like me, I can do that too”?

Oh, no. I still don’t, actually. I had my first film at Sundance in 2006 and even though I’ve had four feature films which I’ve written and directed and helped to produce, I don’t have people calling me to be my agents or managers, I still have to reach out to them and then show them my work. It’s kind of shocking, but it’s part of the process.

For yourself, as someone who is both a female filmmaker and a minority filmmaker, do you feel the impact of that on your career, whether in a positive or negative way?

I think it’s had a kind of double-negative impact on me in one way and also it’s had a very positive impact on me. I’ve had great support from Sundance Institute when I first started and they continue to check in with me and support me. It’s been great because there are so few Asian women directors out there in the space and in the world. On the other hand, as far as getting a foot in the door of being able to do bigger projects or expanding my palette, it’s been very limiting. And I think perhaps with more voices talking about diversity and giving women an equal share of the opportunities maybe it will be a double positive for me to get more.

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