Korean pop culture is now recognized as a legitimate global phenomenon, having entertained millions of fans from around the world over the last two decades. With an ever-increasing international and diverse audience, the question arises, should the traditionally exclusive and homogenous entertainment industry examine its own stance on diversity?

To start, South Korea is a very homogenous country, with over 99% of the population identifying as ethnic Koreans. So in that respect, it does make sense that the entertainment industry is pretty much all Korean as well. But the rest of the world is changing and diversifying, and keeping up with that change should be on the minds of those in Korean entertainment. (And in the minds of others, as well.) In recent years, Korea has started to see some changes: foreign talents are appearing regularly on television, a Korean-Nigerian model has become a star in fashion, and singers and actors are collaborating in big-time international projects. But the reality, according to an editorial in The Korea Times, is that racism is still very much alive in the Korean entertainment industry, and to a larger extent, in Korean society as well.

For Hallyu to sustain its global popularity, one of the most important changes that must be made are the hiring of more foreign workers in the entertainment and fashion fields. With so much international attention placed on Korean culture, not having any diversity in the country's biggest exports is not a good look –industry officials have acknowledged this. In television, producers simply do not like hiring foreigners, and if they do have them on TV, will portray them as different and stereotype them, more often than not. A CEO of an entertainment agency even went as far as to claim that investors will not invest in shows with foreigners in them, for fear of low ratings. Despite exceptions like half-Korean Daniel Henney and Samuel Okyere, the industry still has a long way to go.

It's the same with fashion. Even though Korea boasts a biannual Seoul Fashion Week, black or Southeast Asian models are rarely ever seen walking up and down runways. White models are seen, however, in magazines and advertisements. But like in television, the fashion industry has no choice but to change, especially with social media's influence on all things fashion. Designers will have no choice but to incorporate models from all races to attract an audience. Han Hyun Min, the young Korean-Nigerian pioneer of men's fashion, is a perfect example of how inclusive Korean fashion can and should be. But even he still has to deal with a deep-rooted racism that lurks underneath all the glitz and glamour. To most, he is black first, a foreigner, even though he feels like a Korean inside. 

But everything evolves, it always does. And as Korean entertainment and fashion become an even bigger part of the global community in the years to come, let's hope that it makes efforts to become as inclusive and diverse as it can.

Daniel Henney

Sam Okyere — Korean TV personality from Ghana

Model Han Hyun Min


Tomorrow With You

Starring Shin Min Ah and Lee Je Hoon

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