Attention to cultural sensitivity becomes crucial in Hallyu content

윤지현 / 인턴 차민경 / 2021-06-19 08:37:07
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'The Penthouse: War in Life' production team apologizes for recent racial accusations


SEOUL, June 19 (Yonhap) -- Recently, a series of controversies related to racial discrimination have emerged in the Korean entertainment industry.

Though the popularity of Hallyu dramas abroad continues to increase day by day, it has been pointed out that the level of consciousness about other cultures in the Korean entertainment industry is inadequate.

One prime example of the controversy can be spotted in the third season of the popular drama "The Penthouse: War in Life." In an episode that aired on June 11, Alex Lee (actor Park Eun-seok), who is Logan Lee's brother, appears with a black bodyguard, a reggae hairstyle, and tattoos on his body.


▲ This photo captured from season 3 of SBS's popular drama "The Penthouse: War in Life." shows actor Park Eun-seok's character, Alex Lee. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


Although Alex's physical appearance was accepted as just a unique make-up among local Korean viewers, the response from overseas audiences was different.

In an online community made up by foreign Hallyu fans, some commented that they "felt insulted as a black person" and "felt disrespect and unpleasant."

The fact that reggae hair, which represents the identity of black people, was misused with a negative context and as a symbol of gangsters, seemed to be the main argument conveyed by the disappointed fans.

A reggae hairstyle refers to strands of hair formed by braiding, which is usually worn by the black community, especially Jamaicans.

Black people perceive this hairstyle as part of their own identity and are usually displeased by others' imitation, considering it as "cultural theft," however the production team of "The Penthouse: War in Life" has overlooked this part.

As the controversy grew, actor Park Eun-seok posted a statement in both Korean and English on Instagram last Sunday.

"I'd like to let everyone know that none of the appearances that were driven by the character was falsely intentional to harm, mock, disrespect or discourage the African-American community," Park said. "I'd like to apologize to the people who took offense by the character's appearance."

In addition, another controversy sparked up in SBS's new drama "Racket Boys," which aired on June 14. In specific, during the fifth episode, the Korean national badminton team coach, Director Fang--played by Ahn Nae-sang--complains that the Indonesian staff responsible for organizing the tournament did not provide space for the students.

Indonesian viewers protested that the drama insulted their country, and the production team posted apology statement on its official Instagram, saying, "We did not intend to insult any particular country, player, or race."


▲ These captured images from Instagram shows the apology statements posted by actor Park Eun-seok (left) and the production team of "Racket Boys" (right). (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


A series of controversy over the lack of understanding and consideration for other cultures has continued with the growth of Hallyu related contents.

In 2017, the MBC drama "Man Who Dies to Live" was criticized for showing a woman in a bikini wearing a hijab and lying down near a swimming pool.

The drama caused controversy over the disparagement of Islamic culture by showing the main character with his feet up next to the Koran and standing in an arrogant posture in a mosque.

At the time, the production team posted an apology in Korean, English and Arabic on its website and SNS, promising to prevent a recurrence.

▲ This photo provided by MBC shows the drama poster for "Man Who Dies to Live," which aired in 2017. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


During the same year, girl group Mamamoo apologized after singing "Uptown Funk" by pop singer Bruno Mars with black paint on the members' faces at their solo concert.

The concept of blackface, which refers to other races dressing up as black people, has long disappeared since the 1960s in multicultural societies like the United States.

However, in Korea, where the history of multicultural societies is relatively short, often does not recognize that certain expressions can be racist.

Some local internet users mentioned how they weren't sure why these issues are controversial and that they needed a change in perspective.


▲ This photo captured from social media shows the members of Mamamoo with darkened skin performing "Uptown Funk" during their solo concert. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


The growth of over-the-top (OTT) platforms has provided a plethora of Korean dramas and entertainment programs to be watched by audiences overseas in real time and such criticism is expected to appear more frequently.

Entertainment industry officials state that Korean content producers need to make considerable efforts to understand different cultural contexts as Hallyu is gaining popularity beyond Asia and across the world.


(C) Yonhap News Agency. All Rights Reserved

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