‘Kim’s Convenience’ Stars Simu Liu and Jean Yoon Open up on “Painful” Lack of Diversity, “Overtly Racist” Storylines – Hollywood Reporter

The fifth and final season of Kim’s Convenience debuted on Netflix on June 2, the same day that star Simu Liu opened up in a Facebook post as he was feeling “a host of emotions” about saying goodbye to the beloved Canadian series about a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store.

Liu, who is about to see his profile skyrocket with the Sept. 3 release of the Marvel superhero epic Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in which he has the title role, has been open about some of those feelings in recent months (disappointment, anger, resentment) but last week’s post marked the first time he detailed at length why he has been wrestling with so much. Among his claims: the show suffered from a lack of diversity among writers and producers, there was discord behind the scenes, actors were not allowed to offer creative input, and the cast was paid “an absolute horsepoop rate.”

Despite all of his frustrations, Liu said he was ready for and excited about a potential sixth season. “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,” posted Liu, who played Jung on the series which was created by Ins Choi and Kevin White and based on Choi’s stage play. “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 schedules work.”

In fact, Liu wrote that he wanted to offer much more of himself during the run of the show — from writing to creative input — but was repeatedly turned down. He found that “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,” he wrote. “I can appreciate that the show is still a hit and is enjoyed by many people but I remain fixated on the missed opportunities to show Asian characters with real depth and the ability to grow and evolve.”

He continued that the writer’s room “lacked both East Asian and female representation” and a pipeline to introduce diverse talents, claims that align with the racial reckoning currently happening across the border in Hollywood as the industry continues to hire and foster more inclusive sets and writer’s rooms. “Aside from Ins [Choi], there were no other Korean voices in the room. And personally, I do not think he did enough to be a champion for those voices (including ours),” Liu posted. “When he left (without so much as a goodbye note to the cast), he left no protégé, no padawan learner, no Korean talent that could have replaced him.”

Liu said he tried to offer his talents, sending scripts and short films as a way to prove his worth, while also speaking up, as did his castmates, “but those doors were never opened to us in any meaningful way.” His colleague, series star Paul Sun Hyung Lee, also shared his frustrations regarding the show’s cancelation in March when he told the Calgary Herald, that creator Choi stopped speaking to him. “He ghosted me,” he said. “I’m very hurt by that, to be honest.”

Regarding the discord, Liu said “this part really breaks me because I think we all individually were SO committed to the success of the show and so aware of how fortunate we all were. We just all had different ideas on how to get there.” He also took responsibility for his own behavior, admitting that he likely said and did things “that were stupid and not helpful” and was often viewed as “the odd man out or a problem child.” He said his behavior reflected his own insecurities but was buoyed by real-life events such as losing screen time, nomination snubs and missing out on opportunities that were awarded his castmates.

“I had no mentor during this whole process and nobody from the producing team of the show ever even remotely reached out. So, I probably said and did things that were stupid and not helpful,” he said, adding that despite his experiences he always worked to present a united front to the press. Now that that’s changed, he also came clean on pay, saying that he felt the cast was underpaid “for how successful the show actually became.”

“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. After one season, after the show debuted to sky-high ratings, we received a little bump-up that also extended the duration of our contracts by two years,” he said, citing a fellow Canadian comedy Schitt’s Creek as a comparison in that they were making nothing compared to the actors on that series who had “brand name talent” recognition. “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 too scared to rock the boat.”

With those concerns now calmed because the show is done, Liu closed his post by thanking the “PHENOMENAL” day to day crew and saying how touched he has been by the “voracity of our fans.” After sharing the post, it immediately sparked a ton of shares, comments and news articles. One of those came from John Doyle, a television critic from The Globe and Mail who took issue with many of Liu’s points, including that the show’s non-Asian character Shannon (played by Nicole Power) got a spin-off series while the Asian actors did not.

Doyle also had issues with Liu pointed out the lack of diversity behind the scenes, saying that Kim’s Convenience employed 13 female writers and that Choi should get more credit for scripting all 65 episodes and the play on which the series is based. Over the weekend, Liu’s co-star Jean Yoon, who plays Umma, responded to Doyle’s column and backed up Liu’s post by saying that as “a Korean-Canadian woman [with] more experience and knowledge of the world of my characters, the lack of Asian female, especially Korean writers in the writers room of Kim’s made my life VERY DIFFICULT & the experience of working on the show painful.”

She opened up on why it was so painful in a thread that detailed the mysterious absence of Choi from many aspects of the show. “It was evident from Mr. Choi’s diminished presence on set, or in response to script questions. Between [Season 4] and [Season 5], this FACT became a crisis, and in [Season 5] we were told Mr. Choi was resuming control of the show. The cast received drafts of all [Season 5] scripts in advance of shooting BECAUSE of [COVID-19], at which time we discovered storylines that were OVERTLY RACIST, and so extremely culturally inaccurate that the cast came together and expressed concerns collectively.”

It’s unclear what those storylines were or how Choi responded. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to a rep for the show in response to the above claims and will update the story once that becomes available.

The show’s official Twitter account posted screenshots of social media posts from “South Asian award-winning writer and co-executive producer” Anita Kapila who was responding to the claims about lack of representation behind the scenes. “I loved working with every single writer who came into Kim’s Convenience room, but today I want to publicly acknowledge the women and BIPOC I was honoured to work alongside. I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone — please blame it on vaccination mind fog.” She singled out the following writers: Clara Altimas, Nadiya Chettiar, Carly Stone, Sonja Bennett, Amelia Haller, Rebecca Kohler, Jean Kim, Barbara Mamabolo, Kat Sandler, Sophie Marsh, Zlatina Pacheva, Allan Reoch, and Shebli Zarghami.

Separately, the producers have been largely mum on the swirl surrounding the show’s cancelation, which was announced in early March on the show’s Instagram page. “Authenticity of storytelling is at the center of the success of Kim’s Convenience. At the end of production on Season 5, our two co-creators [Ins Choi and Kevin White] confirmed they were moving on to other projects. Given their departure from the series, we have come to the difficult conclusion that we cannot deliver another season of the same heart and quality that has made the show so special.”

In an interview with THR last month, Liu called the decision “a betrayal.”

“For the showrunners to say that they were moving on, it was always our belief that there were other voices of color that could fill that void and continue to create authentic stories for these characters. Over 65 episodes, the characters of Appa, Umma, Janet and Jung deserved an ending and a reconciliation for that family,” he said. “What pains me more than anything is that we built a wonderful audience that has been so supportive and so excursive in their praise of the show, and we aren’t able to give them the ending they deserve. It really does suck. That being said, I can still, at the end of the day, feel proud of our accomplishments and our achievement.”