A little over a week ago, a piece on Kim’s Convenience written by Inkoo Kang for Slate was published and linked through to Twitter. In it, Inkoo describes a struggle in understanding the position of the show in the growing number of Asian stories on Western television, streaming services, and film. Moreover, there appeared to be an overwhelming perception that Kim’s Convenience is inauthentic in portraying a Korean migrant family, identifying with that, and who the show was for.
Having read some of the reactions to the article on Twitter as part of my normal morning routine, I took some time to reflect on the article and did what I’d never done before on Twitter: clap back.
In this thread, I address the question about who Kim’s Convenience is for: everyone. At it’s core, Kim’s is about family dynamics. The show puts a spotlight on inter-generational values, the conflicting ideas of “me” and “we”, the idea of preserving tradition, issues of pride and masculinity, and decision-making for the “good” of the family. In the context of culture, the viewing audience can an inner conflict continuing to escalate in Janet, portrayed by Andrea Bang, in her struggle to define who she is in relation to the wider community, cross-cultural romantic relationships, the assumptions of the migrant experience from a White person’s lens, and the struggles in connecting with other people in the community.
“Is the author only willing to view it through their Korean-American lens? Because these specific references to disowning children are not exclusive to Korean families. These are things that are visible in many cultures, Asian and otherwise, that place a greater value in family. And this brings me back to my first observation — ‘Kim’s Convenience’ is a show that is more about family dynamics, which just happens have an Asian-Canadian family at the core.” — Expanded excerpt from my thread.
I felt a need to rebut the piece because I knew that Kim’s was able to transcend culture. Friends who I recommended the show to, Asian or otherwise, were able to see behavioural traits and values held by their parents in the characters on the show. They could also recall similar conversations they had, and they viewed Kim’s as sitcom that was centered around the relationships and dynamics of the family. I also felt a need to unpack the idea of “gatekeeping” media, as it did appear that Inkoo had inferred that the show was really only for Korean-North Americans. After sending the thread out into the maelstrom that is Twitter, I hoped for some sort of reaction. What I didn’t expect was the level of interaction and sharing of other stories from other viewers and the actors themselves.
“Instead, those of us that are Asian-x, should be able to see past the lens, support such media, and share it with others.”
For someone who rarely gets likes on Tweets, this level of engagement was a strange and surreal experience. Couple that with Paul (Appa/Sung-il), Jean (Umma/Yong-mi), Simu (Jung), Sugith (Mr Mehta), and Andrew (Kimchee) all interacting to this thread in one way or another took that surreal feeling to another level. It struck a chord in the Kim’s Twitter community, and I am very grateful that I was able to articulate my feelings about the article in such a way that others were able to share their own stories about family and their own struggles to understand the article’s position on the show.
Kim’s is only one story of many. Take a look at Fresh Off the Boat, Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, or The Family Law. They are all different stories of a similar experience, and our ability to identify with each story will be different, and just because they happen to have Asian talent take pride and place in the cast doesn’t mean I, a product of the Asian diaspora, should keep them to myself. Instead, those of us that are Asian-x (random interjecting question: Is there a singular term in use to describe the Asian-[insert non-Asian, usually Western country here] community?), should be able to see past the lens, support such media, and share it with others.
OK, see you.