When Paul Sun-Hyung Lee was growing up in Toronto in the 1970s and ’80s, there were no TV shows featuring Korean immigrants, or many Asians at all besides Pat Morita. There was “M*A*S*H,” but the most visible Asian in that cast was Hawaiian, and Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” wouldn’t launch until 1994.
That slowly began to change in the ’90s, but the real wave of shows starring Asians began in the 2010s, and Lee is proud to be a part of it.
“I wanted so hard to fit in, to assimilate, that I actively pushed away my heritage because it was never seen. When you don’t see yourself reflected on the screens, you are very subtly taught that your stories don’t matter or that you are an outsider,” said Lee, who stars as Appa, the patriarch in the hit sitcom “Kim’s Convenience.”
“For Asian kids, to see themselves and their families reflected on the screen is a big deal. It normalizes the families and it shows that they are not alone, that these are common stories,” he added.
“Kim’s Convenience,” adapted from Ins Choi’s 2011 play, was picked up by Netflix in 2018, two years after its first season aired on CBC. The show is paired with ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” and stars from both casts were at Harvard on Monday to take part in a panel discussion called Reimagine “Asian” at the Graduate School of Education’s Askwith Hall.
The panel was conceived and convened by Woojin Kim, an Ed.M. candidate at HGSE. “I love these shows,” he said. “I love ‘Kim’s Convenience’ because it’s one of the most relatable, authentic media experiences that I’ve ever had a connection with.”
After years of misrepresentation, stereotype, or just omission, “We’re now seeing the emergence of directors and creators who are intentional and thoughtful about the casting choices they’re making,” Kim said. “They are covering a very wide gamut. These creatives can express their full and true stories, crafting more authentic, diverse narratives.