Here’s What a Popular Korean Drama Got Wrong About Muslim Women
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Korean drama fan. Some of my favorite Korean dramas are “Pinocchio,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Healer,” and “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon.” You name it, I enjoy it! So, it was very disheartening when some of my friends and I discovered the blatant misrepresentation of Muslim women in Korean dramas, particularly in a drama titled, “Ms. Hammurabi.” While the show’s tagline (“who seem to be nowhere but, in reality, can be anywhere: story of heroes who live among us”) paints an intriguing picture of what we can expect from the drama, here’s why I’m not a fan of “Ms. Hammurabi.”
So, for a bit of background, let me start with a brief rundown of the synopsis for “Ms. Hammurabi”: “Ms. Hammurabi,” a romantic comedy, stars Go Ah Ra, Kim Myung Soo (L of INFINITE), Sung Dong Il, Ryu Deok Hwan, Lee Elijah, Lee Tae Sung, and Ahn Nae Sang. It is about an optimistic judge, Park Cha Oh Reum, with a strong will to protect the less fortunate. This puts her at odds with her colleague, Im Ba Reun, a cool-tempered man who puts utmost faith in upholding the letter of the law over showing sympathetic tendencies. The character of Oh Reum has a superpower which includes the ability to change those around her. Due to her kind and understanding personality, she is nicknamed “Ms. Hammurabi.” One of the main things that most fans enjoy about this drama is the depiction of what a judge’s life is like. Additionally, like most Korean dramas, the soundtrack never disappoints.
This begs the question, why is my religion always used as either a point of humor, or as one of terror, and nothing else in between?
Despite the positive parts, I felt like there were more cons than pros when it came to this drama. There was a scene where the character played by Go Ah Ra arrives in a burka, and tries to make a point that clothing doesn’t define you. However, all that scene seemed to do was poke fun at women who choose to wear the burka. This begs the question, why is my religion always used as either a point of humor, or as one of terror, and nothing else in between? This portrayal of a Muslim may be the only exposure some audiences have to our ummah, and as a result, to depict Muslims as a character to laugh at is a supreme misrepresentation. We are diminished to an entity worth of mockery, and little more.
Unfortunately, way too often Islam is portrayed incorrectly. Muslims are portrayed as terrorists, or as comedic relief. This erases the entire spectrum of diversity that makes up our ummah, and as a result, erases our agency, and eventually, our humanity. We recently saw a more varied and accurate portrayal of the Asian culture in “Crazy Rich Asians,” and a more eye-opening one in the surprise Netflix hit, “The Hate U Give.” Even the actor behind the portrayal of Jason Mendoza, the endlessly lovable, yet shockingly idiotic character on “The Good Place,” acknowledges the need for Asian actors to play roles beyond the stereotypical “smart Asian” in order to represent the spectrum of personalities that inevitably make up every population. This diversity is what humanizes us. Perhaps one day, Muslims will get a more accurate and varied portrayal in the media too. We deserve accurate representation as much as anyone else.
In situations like these, it would have been so much better if the director had improved the scene by consulting a Muslim on how to respectfully depict a Muslim character.
This portrayal of a Muslim woman in “Ms. Hammurabi” could have been done better, or been deleted all together. In situations like these, it would have been so much better if the director had improved the scene by consulting a Muslim on how to respectfully depict a Muslim character. It’s clear that there’s a definite lack of awareness, or a lack of willingness to learn. In this day and age, where information is available at the click of a button, I don’t know which is more insulting! Another example of the misrepresentation of Islam in Korean dramas can be found in “Man Who Dies to Live.” There is a scene where a character puts his feet on top of the Qur’an. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s a big deal should consider the outrage that would result if someone did the same thing to the Bible.
Predictably, Twitter erupted in anger about the portrayal of Muslims in Korean dramas: “That drama is sharing the wrong image of Islam and Muslims in general. It’s a total piece of garbage,” wrote Twitter user @mayssemgh. “Wow…I’m not even a muslim but this is freaking disrespectful…Why is this drama approved?” questioned @jewliette.
The drama’s production company eventually apologized, but honestly, it feels like the damage is done. I’m certainly not saying we should boycott all Korean dramas, like some are insisting we should. I don’t think my passion for Korean dramas would allow it.
However, it is our moral obligation to bring awareness when something isn’t right. And it is heartening to see people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, speak out against the incorrect portrayal of Muslims in the media. Islam teaches us to be respectful of all religions and their Holy Books, so it is disappointing that Islam is not treated with the same respect. It’s high-time that this double-standard changes.