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'Kim's Convenience' star Jean Yoon talks about industry racism in Hollywood. How does this factor into the season 5 end of the sitcom?

Does season 5 of ‘Kim’s Convenience’ address industry racism?

Over the last few years, we’ve come to love the Korean Canadian Kim family. Mr & Mrs Kim run a convenience store while their daughter Janet pursued a degree in photography — a rare instance of a second-generation immigrant following her passion — and their son Jung trying to make something out of his life after a feud with his father. 

Sitcoms often walk a thin line between offensive & hilarious, but Kim’s Convenience managed to make us laugh in a wholesome manner. The Kim family is endearing & the sitcom tropes are refreshing. Even the side characters were diverse, giving us hope for a fulfilling sitcom viewing experience.

A diverse cast isn’t all it takes

But the show didn’t end on great terms. It was abruptly canceled after season 5, and many cast members have shared their concerns in interviews and on Twitter. Simu Liu, who played the handsome Jung, had expressed his concern with the abrupt ending, sharing that he’d have liked to see some closure in the characters’ lives. He was also not happy with the spin-off being made from the series.

“The producers of the show are indeed spinning off a new show from the Shannon character. It’s been difficult for me. 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. And not that they would ever ask, but I will adamantly refuse to reprise my role in any capacity,” he said.

Now, actress Jean Yoon has reignited her concerns about industry racism & structural issues in the industry. At a recent virtual panel, she addressed the lack of awareness, “As Asians in the film community, we know our industry doesn’t believe it’s racist, the Canadian film and TV industry really doesn’t believe it because they mean well.”

Stars against the writing room

She added that the problem lies in the underestimation of Asian talent, “The industry doesn’t recognize the way they treat Asians is fundamentally racist, so you have closed doors, you have assumptions about how much we bring to the table. That is unbelievably frustrating.”

For a show that showed diversity on-screen, at least in the casting, it was surprising that the writing room didn’t reflect the same. In fact, actors have expressed that a power imbalance was palpable. 

Liu had even shared that despite the overwhelmingly obvious success of the show, the actors weren’t fairly compensated in accordance, “We were paid an absolute horse**** rate. The whole process has really opened my eyes to the relationship between those with power and those without.”

Could season 5 salvage anything?

Yoon shared the cast tried to chip in with their experience, “Our company came together and we were able to see all the scripts that were planned for season five, and prior to that we as performers were never included, even though we begged for that. We had asked for treatments, for outlines, so we could respond in advance and be productive for the writers’ room.”

There were many storylines that didn’t fit into the context, like characters doing things that would normally be considered wild in a Korean household. Yoon chalked it up to the lack of authentic experiences in the writers’ room, “The balance of power always saw more men than women and there was always more white people than people of color.”

Not only that, she shared that the jokes often turned out to be humiliating to perform, or too inauthentic, but her own experience or take on these was not incorporated. At the panel, she also shared how the commercial aspect of storytelling often takes over, even reflecting in the realms of rejections Asian actors face. 

Here’s hoping the industry does more than token gestures to address racism & that this change begins in the writers’ room.

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