“Kim’s Convenience” star Simu Liu wonders “every day” if he should have spoken on social media last month about his experience on the set of the hit CBC series, when he noted in a Facebook post about “extremely white” producers and the lack of Korean voices in the writers’ room after creator Ins Choi left. But Liu recalls watching what turned out to be the disappointing series finale at the end of the fifth season, which had just been released on Netflix, and reflecting on the show’s global impact. on a Canadian-Asian family.
“It made me really sad [for] which could have been, and angered me, in many ways, that we weren’t able to pull things together to understand our differences, ”he said. Variety in mid-June, shortly after receiving the Canadian Award of Distinction at the 2021 Banff Rockie Awards. His co-star Jean Yoon echoed his initial sentiment on Twitter, decrying the allegedly “overtly racist” intrigues against which the casting objected. And this week’s Entertainment Weekly cover story starring Liu, now the star of Marvel Studios’ upcoming “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” tent pole, reveals that he protested a row in a row. script in which he introduces himself as “Egg Foo Jung.
“In the spirit of talking about these issues, I really wanted – more than canceling anyone or calling anyone – I wanted to make sure that future productions learn from our shortcomings and our mistakes, ”he continued. “And I described a lot of things that we as a cast didn’t do right. I think we were subjected to a lot of internal bickering and sort of missed the big picture of what was going on i.e. felt like creative control was being taken away from us and that we become less and less relevant than our own show. “(In response to Liu’s public comments, a CBC spokesperson asked Variety back to a March statement from the show’s producers who explained they were ending the show after its co-creators left.)
Liu and Yoon’s experiences perhaps speak to a time when much of the entertainment industry finds itself parked: more diversity and representation on camera, but a lot of work remains to be done behind the scenes.
“It’s got to a point where you can see that the diversity in front of the camera has improved, and [diversity initiative] efforts have resulted in greater representation, ”said Dr. Ana-Christina Ramon, director of research and civic engagement at UCLA in the division of social sciences and co-author of the annual diversity report. ‘Hollywood. “Quantitatively, you see the representation is there in terms of having more people of color on screen, but when you look at the writers, directors, and creators, you still see this serious under-representation in all of the major. racial and ethnic groups. “
This lack of meaningful representation results in “white people writing about these characters [that are] presented as people of color, but there is never a correspondence between the writers who speak from their personal experience. “
This was the case with a former scribe of CBS’s “The Neighborhood” series Cedric the Entertainer and Max Greenfield about a white family moving to a predominantly black neighborhood, based on the personal experience of the creator and now former showrunner Jim Reynolds. . Reynolds left after three seasons following complaints about his leadership style and cultural issues, including from two black writers who had left the show, such as Variety Previously reported.
The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous due to fears of professional retaliation, felt that Reynolds had hired him and other writers for their perspective as African Americans, but had not incorporated their experiences significantly.
“I was there for the fluff, to spice up the jokes and make them authentic, but my ideas as a black man weren’t particularly appreciated,” the writer said. Variety. “It’s a white show pretending to be a black show.”
“The Neighborhood” has since brought in Meg DeLoatch, an African-American woman, as season 4 showrunner. The assembled writers room is “70% diverse,” according to a source close to the production, which the network considers as a step forward towards meaningful representation and believes this will be reflected in the storylines for the fourth season. (CBS declined to comment.)
Separately, another CBS show, “All Rise,” saw five of its original seven writers leave the courtroom drama series because of the approach reported by creator, showrunner Greg Spottiswood, of race and gender in the writers’ room, according to a New York Times report.
Part of the challenge for the industry as a whole is to create long-term change and move beyond short-term programs such as one-time bias training for executives, Ramon said.
“Things like that don’t create the kind of structural change that is needed,” she said. “And so what happened was a lot of it was performative, and a lot of it was just a very general level of just saying a proclamation and saying we’re going to do a effort, but not really doing a thorough analysis of what is needed because what is needed would be a strategic implementation.
For Liu, who has partnered with Made / Nous to become an ambassador for its Seek More campaign, which promotes Canadian talent from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures, believes it’s important for showrunners as well. and producers to foster an environment in which everyone is able to contribute to the creative conversation.
“I even look at my experience working with Marvel, and you have industry giants like Kevin Feige, and then I think of how collaborative he was every step of the way and his willingness to hear my thoughts and Fate. [Daniel Cretton’s] thoughts and thoughts of Dave Callaham, ”said Liu, referring to the film’s Asian-American director and screenwriter.
While Liu couldn’t go into details on the comments he offered – as is the case in Marvel’s top secret manner – he did say there was “little information we were able to offer. which really brought about real tangible change in this scenario and pointed the story to a better place.
The origins of the Shang-Chi character in the Marvel comics are certainly heavy; When the character made his debut, he was the son of Fu Manchu, an offensive 20th-century relic who embodied a series of pernicious anti-Asian stereotypes. In 2019, just before starting filming, Cretton told BuzzFeed News that he first approached Marvel about the movie “Shang-Chi” specifically to “explain some of the things that might offend me” about the tapes. comics – and he was pleasantly surprised when Marvel ended up hiring him to lead it.
“I’m incredibly excited for people to watch the movie because it’s really such a celebration of Asianism through all of its characters,” Liu said. “We were really happy to have evolved beyond the source material given to us.”
Being “very, very lucky” to be a Marvel superhero – significantly, his first Asian-American theater superhero – has put Liu in a position from which he feels he can speak out. .
“I really don’t feel like I’m speaking for the cast of ‘Kim’s Convenience’,” he said. “In many ways, I was speaking on behalf of many actors and creators who just never felt the security of being able to do this. All in the spirit of being able to effect long-term changes.
Adam B. Vary contributed to this report.