With a sense of timing that tells you he’s a performer, actor Simu Liu has weighed in on the end of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience.
In a lengthy personal statement on Facebook, to coincide with Netflix streaming Season 5 of the comedy, the actor who played Jung outlined his frustrations, anger and resentment. He makes some valid points and others that amount to impenetrable office politics being aired in public.
Liu will star in a coming Marvel superhero movie, one that might be a franchise, and has been cast in several other high-profile, big-budget movies. He’s a star with an army of fans worldwide and a big platform. One way of looking at his Facebook statement is this – he’s deploying his fans against the creator and producers of Kim’s Convenience. That’s not a fair fight.
In particular it is unfair to Ins Choi, the actor, poet and playwright who wrote the extraordinary play called Kim’s Convenience, a landmark in Canadian theatre, and helped steer it into an internationally admired TV series, which is why his name is on every existing episode. Kim’s Convenience came out of his head and life experience, not Simu Liu’s.
Liu says he’s “resentful” about the one non-Asian character, Shannon (Nicole Power) getting her own show, Strays. Now, to the public the existence of Strays might look like a snub to the Asian characters. But it’s more complicated – the Shannon character did not exist in the play Kim’s Convenience, the basis for the series, does not belong to Choi, and the producers acted on that fact, moving onward.
One of Liu’s more mean-spirited drive-by insults is noting that Choi left and did not send a goodbye note to the cast. Given the infighting, feuds and spats that Liu talks about, you already know it was a difficult, fraught ending for everyone.
The actor also asserts that payment to the Kim’s cast was “horsepoop” when, that is, “Compared to shows like Schitt’s Creek, who had ‘brand-name talent’ with American agents …”
Well, welcome to television, where the heft of reputation and experience is earned, not handed out to members of an ensemble in their first successful show. Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara have decades of experience, accolades and awards. Yes, they had more leverage than Simu Liu and it is delusional to think they don’t deserve that.
There’s another peculiar declaration in Liu’s missive: “But it was always my understanding that the lead actors were the stewards of character, and would grow to have more creative insight as the show went on.” This simply isn’t true; “the stewards of the character” are the creator and writers. Actors use their acting skills. Here, Liu set out to conflate the actor with the character, something fans do, and he should know better.
One assertion by Liu has brought his statement international attention. “Our writer’s room lacked both East Asian and female representation, and also lacked a pipeline to introduce diverse talents.” This isn’t quite true. But it has led to such deceptive headlines as this in the British paper The Independent, “Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu says Asian cast were creatively sidelined for ‘overwhelmingly white’ producers.”
The germane part of Liu’s protestation is his mention, just in passing, “Aside from Ins …” To blithely put aside the creator of the play and series, who is most definitely Korean-Canadian, is ungracious and misleading. The show actually had a small writing team. (Choi gets the credit “written by” on all 65 episodes.) Liu is likely assuming that fans think the show had a writing team the size of a U.S. network show, which can have as many as 20 writers. Yes, it would have been noble and pro-active for the producers to hire more Asian writers, and there are more than a few Asian-Canadians who do wonderful work in theatre here.
Yet a glance at the credits for Kim’s over its five seasons lists 13 women as writers at various times, contrary to Liu’s suggestion the show lacked “female representation.” Further, the writing credits do indicate diversity – does an Iranian-Canadian not count?
This column in reply to Liu will not be popular. Liu’s a big and beloved TV star, soon to be a movie star, and his resentments and grievances, no matter how inexact, will be taken as gospel. Mind you, some Canadian actors, of various backgrounds, have weighed in. Some point to the fact that actors of diverse backgrounds have only recently been employed often and in numbers on TV here, making Liu’s assertions understandably fuelled by antagonism toward the old status quo. Others say the enormous success of Ins Choi’s unique creation has been tarnished by petty-minded venting.
Liu’s lengthy statement is welcome, because we get so few ground-level insights into Canadian TV and how it is made. But if you want a verité account of where Kim’s came from and what it means, read Ins Choi’s introduction to the text of Kim’s Convenience (published by Anansi). Now that’s a story of hard work, creation and collaboration that sings, stings and soars.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.