The Behind the Scenes Gender Divide in K-Dramas
Lots of time and attention is given to the stars of K Dramas, but rarely is the spotlight shone on those working behind the scenes. Screenwriters and directors are equally important to a drama’s success (or failure) but are largely ignored. So I set off to answer the question every flustered drama fan has asked: “Who made this thing?!”
Unsurprisingly, as I began to research, a clear gender divide between directors and screenwriters became clear. Screenwriters are mostly women and directors are overwhelmingly men.
I compiled a list of 40 dramas that appeared within the last three years on Korea’s three main stations: SBS, KBS, and MBC and tried to confirm the name and gender identity of each director and main screenwriter. This proved to be more difficult to find in English than I would have hoped. I mostly had to rely on French fan site Nautlijon and Korea’s Nate. Three dramas got removed from my list because of lack of information. You can see the full list here.
34 out of 41 total screenwriters were women and seven were men. Out of 50 directors and assistant directors on the list only one, Lee Na-Jeong, is a woman. Lee worked as the assistant director on KBS’s 2011 smash hit “The Innocent Man.”
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the gender divide. These same patterns apply in the West. Especially during the “golden age of Hollywood” of the 40s and 50s many women were successful screenwriters while simultaneously completely shut out of directing.
To date, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards (with the first nomination coming only in 2003 for “Lost in Translation.”) However many classic films nominated for the Academy Film for Best Original Screenplay have been written in full or in party by women. These include “Singing in the Rain” (Betty Comden), “Adam’s Rib” (Ruth Gordon), “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (Maguerite Duras) and “That Man From Rio” (Ariane Mnouchkine).
Women working in Korea’s entertainment history have the same lot. Plenty of women write dramas, very few direct. However the picture isn’t as sunny as it may appear. For the most part, lady screenwriters are working on romantic comedies and melodramas. While these may be popular, they are still regarded as “low brow.” These dramas are for the most part not going to be “classics” of Korean film. None of the top 10 highest grossing domestic Korean films were written or directed by women. While women write for the “lesser art” of television they are shut out of cinema entirely.
However, what may be the most interesting (and concerning) part is that despite women making up a considerable majority in the silver-screenwriting business, lady screenwriters are overwhelmingly producing anti-feminist or at least problematic shows. I would think at least some screenwriters, especially veterans with (assumedly) a good amount of pull in the industry would be able to add feminist characters or themes into their stories. However, this doesn’t seem to be true. This year’s hit Master’s Sun was written by the Hong Sisters, two of the biggest names in Korean television. Yet the female lead spends a great deal of time begging for the attention of the cruel businessman she eventually ends up with.
Undeniably, part of it is ratings. It is common for writers to get a cut of the profits. The larger the profits the larger their cut will be. The sad fact is shows that play into the status quo tend to get bigger ratings. However it is still disappointing to know that anti-feminist stories are still favored even in an industry mostly headed by women.
Are you surprised by these outcomes? How do you think this affects K-Dramas? Let us know in the comments!