Last spring break, I traveled to South Korea. It was my first time in a decade, so I was expecting some surprises. I did not, however, expect to return with cultural dilemmas.
While crudely pulling half-cooked squid off a wooden stick with my teeth in the streets of Dongdaemun Market, I self-consciously glanced at the young Black man beside me, worried that I seemed too uncouth. I was certainly not expecting him to order squid in impeccable Korean and tear through its dangly legs, devouring the dish more fervently than I was. He told me that he was studying abroad and he chose to study in Korea because he loved the culture and people.
At one point, he expressed discomfort that some people had asked him if there were giraffes and wild animals in his backyard in Africa. I was astonished, embarrassed and quite tongue-tied. I realized that I was not much better for assuming that he would be squeamish about casually snacking on squid, when in fact, he enjoyed it much more than I had.
Upon returning home from the trip, I thought about the methods by which people can encounter cultures different from their own. Since culture is primarily reflected through the production of art, whether it be clothing, literature, music or cuisine, it follows that constant exposure to a broad range of art is one way to diminish ignorance. Of course, film exposes people to such art.
However, if films represent erroneously, the resulting misconceptions are not only problematic but also encourage further ignorance — the live action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell” and “Aloha” are some recent examples of films featuring atrocious whitewashing. Considering these consequences, it is critical that all filmmakers prioritize representation. Fortunately, there are a handful of films that are inclusive and sensitive; the list includes “Moonlight,” “Lion,” “Columbus,” “Sin Nombre” and the newest addition, “Black Panther.”
The recently released Marvel film successfully shatters misrepresentation, standards of beauty and presumptuous stereotypes through every facet of its craft, such as its music, script, costume design and casting. It is fitting that critics and fans alike have labeled it a game-changer.
“Black Panther” is a groundbreaking example of why representation matters in Hollywood blockbusters. Having crossed the billion-dollar mark, it shows that films are especially successful when all the characters are accurately represented. Without a doubt, the film’s box office domination will encourage more inclusivity in casting and production, speaking to the fact that certain stories should be told by certain people; “Black Panther” respected this rule of cultural authenticity.
Considering the film’s financial success, these efforts of inclusivity were seen by an enormous audience which will in turn substantially increase the demand for accurate representation. The box office indicates that a massive audience saw Okoye’s hilarious rejection of “beautiful” hair and heard the trap beats in the background during Killmonger’s reign, signaling the dualistic nature of Killmonger’s identity.
The scenes filmed in Busan also suggest that the film was widely seen in Korea, as it features backdrops not entirely different from the markets of Dongdaemun that I explored. In particular, I hope everyone in the Korean audience learned a lesson or two watching the playful banter between Nakia and the club owner — especially having grown up in the midst of many conservative Asian adults.
It was quite common to hear racist and dogmatic comments from adults around me that made me cringe. I quickly realized that it is possible for people of color to be racist in various ways. For instance, my own silence and hesitation to criticize racism in these situations is yet another form of subtle prejudice. Using the fear of seeming impolite in front of adults as my cover, I was simply condoning prejudice in my community by remaining passive. I am quite ashamed to say that I was unable to fully respect cultural diversity out of basic human decency without first seeing a film that heightened my empathy and encouraged me to widen my spectrum for cultural learning.
Since prejudice is systematically ubiquitous, it’s clearly going to take more than a film or a bowl of squid to end the problematic attitudes that people hold against others. Furthermore, film is definitely not the only medium through which people can learn to grow. However, movies such as “Black Panther” are a start. I wish I could share my thoughts about this film with the young man I met over a bowl of squid — or better yet, hear his.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Sophie Kim at [email protected].