|▲ Poster for 'Joseon Exorcist’ (Source: SBS)|
Recently, the SBS drama 'Joseon Exorcist' garnered controversy over historical inaccuracies and distortions leading to its cancelation after just two episodes. It is the first time in broadcasting history that a drama was canceled due to controversy over historical inaccuracy. On March 26, SBS released apology statements, saying, "In recognition of the severity of the incident, we decided to cancel the broadcast and the purchase of broadcasting rights for ‘Joseon Exorcist’.” Even the writer, producer, and actors of ‘Joseon Exorcist’ released apologies through the media or their personal accounts.
There were multiple problems that triggered controversy around the drama ‘Joseon Exorcist’. In the first episode, Chinese food was featured on the drinking table in the scene when Prince Chungnyeong (played by Jang Dong-yoon) treats a Catholic priest John (played by Darcy Paquet) and an interpreter Marco (played by Seo Dong-won) to a feast at a tavern in a northern border area. Along with the historically inaccurate food, controversy flared over many of the other scenes such as when some characters' swords and armor were Chinese, and when the king and queen's sleeping quarters were made of red cloth. Also, many viewers pointed out that it disparages King Taejong (played by Kam Woo-sung), the third king of Joseon who ruled from 1400 to 1418, by describing him as a murderer who cruelly slaughtered innocent people after hallucinating.
It was under these circumstances that some reacted furiously against the forthcoming drama ‘Snowdrop’, after its synopsis was leaked online. According to leaked information, ‘Snowdrop’ is set in Korea when it was gripped by pro-democracy protests in the 1980s, which tells a story of love between a prestigious university student Suho (played by Jung Hae-in), and a female college student Youngcho (played by Jisoo from BLACKPINK). People’s discontent comes from the way that the lead characters were portrayed. The character Suho is a pro-democracy student activist who turns out to be a North Korean agent, and an employee of National Security Planning with a single-minded personality will appear as an assistant for Youngcho. People strongly criticize that, "Even though there is a recorded history that many university students were actually tortured and killed unjustly, setting up the main male character as a spy who is pretending to be an activist may be a problem." Also, they raised a concern, saying, "We think ‘Snowdrop’ is trying to celebrate an employee of National Security Planning who doesn't hesitate to torture and kill humans under the control of the government." Others indicate that, "The premise of the drama itself is an insult to the actual victims." On account of this situation, a petition was posted on the website of the Blue House calling for a halt to the series' production and its cancellation, already attracting more than 200,000 votes.
JTBC made a case on March 26th that "’Snowdrop’ is not a drama that distorts the pro-democracy movement and beautifies the spy agency. It is just a black comedy-drama that satirizes the presidential political situation between the two countries under the authoritarian government back in the 1980s. Also, it's a romance drama of young men and women who sacrifice their love." Public opinion was raised over JTBC's formal position because they said the drama would treat the pro-democracy movement as a ‘black comedy’, without clearly refuting the problem that has been pointed out.
On the other hand, many have pointed out that it may be too early to say whether ‘Snowdrop’ distorted history or not because it has still not been broadcasted yet. In an interview with The Campus Journal on April 14th, Kim Jin-tae, a student of the Department of International Relations in CWNU suggested that, "First of all, I think it is best if viewers wait to form their opinions until the drama is broadcasted." Kim Sung-soo, a student of the Department of Philosophy in CWNU, said, "People may just be following the crowd when they insist that the drama should not be broadcasted before actually seeing it. Therefore, in the case of media such as dramas and movies with a large proportion of stories, we shouldn't be quick to judge."
Since China is carrying out a "New-Northeast Project", claiming that Korean hanbok and Kimchi are parts of traditional Chinese culture, the public is more sensitive to the controversy of historical distortion in dramas because the inaccuracies can provide support to China’s claims. To solve this problem, Kim Jin-tae, a student of the Department of International Relations in CWNU, said, "The problem of historical errors has often emerged in Korea so far that it wouldn’t matter if the problem occurs at any time. So, I hope that drama and movie professionals will pay more attention to historical errors." Kim Sung-soo, a student of the Department of Philosophy in CWNU, emphasized, "Even though ‘Joseon Exorcist' is an example of ignoring historical facts, we should also consider that it’s an opportunity to have a conversation about history, not just an opportunity to get angry.”
People are now drawing more attention to how the controversies over history distortion caused by the ‘Joseon Exorcist' will affect the drama market in the future. The early end of ’Joseon Exorcist' will be approached as a lesson about the risk of historical distortion and its impact on box-office success for many workers in the broadcasting industry who produce dramas. In the future, it is hoped that movie and drama professionals will make a great effort with their responsibility to create a proper view of history by delivering the right facts so that there will be no more controversies.
By Park Jung-hyun,cub-reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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