Back in April, during the finale of the hit Canadian comedy Kim’s Convenience, actor Simu Liu, who played Jung Kim on the show, tweeted out a cryptic note to fans that he was angry about the cancellation, and one day he would provide “tea and receipts.”
Well, that long-awaited day has finally arrived, and boy is he not playing around. Wednesday morning on his official Facebook page, Simu (who portrays warrior Shang-Chi Marvel’s upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), got candid about the poor wages he says the Asian Canadian actors were paid, the lack of collaboration and comradery amongst the cast, and the shortage of Asian Canadian voices in the writer's room.
“I'm feeling a host of emotions right now,” he begins, noting that today is also the day Kim’s Convenience launches on Netflix. “There's been a lot of talk and speculation about what happened, and I want to do my best to give accurate information.”
He then launches into a six-part breakdown of the conditions behind the scenes at Kim’s Convenience.
In his first part, where he explains how the show was axed by the will of the producers, and not because of the network (CBC) or poor ratings, he reveals his resentment at the news that the only non-Asian character on the show, Shannon Ross (played by Nicole Power) is getting a spin-off.
“The producers of the show are indeed spinning off a new show from the Shannon character,” he writes. “It's been difficult for me. I love and am proud of Nicole, and I want the show to succeed for her... but I remain resentful of all of the circumstances that led to the one non-Asian character getting her own show. And not that they would ever ask, but I will adamantly refuse to reprise my role in any capacity.”
After explaining that his casting in a Marvel role never meant he “was suddenly too ‘Hollywood’ for Canadian TV,” he offers the caveat that, “I WAS, however, growing increasingly frustrated with the way my character was being portrayed and, somewhat related, was also increasingly frustrated with the way I was being treated.”
“It was always my understanding that the lead actors were the stewards of character, and would grow to have more creative insight as the show went on. This was not the case on our show, which was doubly confusing because our producers were overwhelmingly white and we were a cast of Asian Canadians who had a plethora of lived experiences to draw from and offer to writers,” he continues.
In a later point further down the statement, he lambasts the lack of diversity in the writer's room.
“Our writer's room lacked both East Asian and female representation,” writes Simu, “and also lacked a pipeline to introduce diverse talents. Aside from Ins [Choi, series creator and original script playwright], there were no other Korean voices in the room. And personally, I do not think he did enough to be a champion for those voices (including ours). When he left (without so much as a goodbye note to the cast), he left no protege, no padawan learner, no Korean talent that could have replaced him.”
This is an incredible revelation for a show that was hailed as one of the most diverse, with Korean Canadian stories and issues front and centre of the comedy. Also, considering how beloved the cast was and how they presented such a united front in public, it may come as a shock that Simu writes they did not get along well at work.
“We didn't always get along with each other,” he admits. “This part really breaks me because I think we all individually were SO committed to the success of the show and SO aware of how fortunate we all were. We just all had different ideas on how to get there."
"Speaking for myself personally, I often felt like the odd man out or a problem child. This one is hard because I recognize that a lot of it reflected my own insecurities at the time, but it was buoyed by things that happened in real life; nomination snubs, decreasing screen time, and losing out on opportunities that were given to other cast members.”
Saying that going to Hollywood was what he needed to do to take his career to the next level, something he felt Kim’s Convenience wouldn’t do, he writes with regret, “So... I probably said and did things that were stupid and not helpful.”
He also blasts the producers for locking the cast into contracts with wages that were well below what they should have been paid for such a successful juggernaut.
“For how successful the show actually became, we were paid an absolute horsepoop rate,” he writes. “The whole process has really opened my eyes to the relationship between those with power and those without. In the beginning, we were no-name actors who had ZERO leverage. So of course we were going to take anything we could.”
He continues, “After one season, after the show debuted to sky-high ratings, we received a little bump-up that also extended the duration of our contracts by two years. Compared to shows like Schitt's Creek, who had 'brand-name talent' with American agents, but whose ratings were not as high as ours, we were making NOTHING. Basically we were locked in for the foreseeable future at a super-low rate.”
With the ongoing public conversations happening in Hollywood these days about the wage disparity between white actors and actors of colour, and also between men and women, especially women of colour, this point may force a lot of powerful people to answer some difficult questions.
Concerning the lack of diverse voices in the writer’s room, Simu writes that he tried to “be that person” to offer cultural and creative insight by offering script and narrative ideas for the show, but was brutally rebuffed.
“Many of us in the cast were trained screenwriters with thoughts and ideas that only grew more seasoned with time. But those doors were never opened to us in any meaningful way,” he writes.
He concludes his epic post with regret that the fans will “never get to watch these characters grow. That we will never see Jung and Appa reuniting. That we will never watch the Kim's deal with Umma's MS, or Janet's journey of her own self-discovery.”
“But I am still touched by the volume and the voracity of our fans (Kimbits...still hands-down the best fandom name EVER),” he adds, “and I still believe in what the show once stood for; a shining example of what can happen when the gates come down and minorities are given a chance to shine.”
At press time, there are over 400 comments on his post and more than 4000 likes, with more than 500 people sharing the post to their networks. Many Canadian actors and actors of colour are voicing their experiences in the industry, echoing what Simu has said. Simu has also taken to Twitter to answer some fan questions concerning his allegations.
So far none of his fellow cast members like Jean Yoon, Andrew Phung, or Paul Sun-Hyung Lee have responded publicly to his post, neither has the CBC, but Kimbits are reeling.
Only time will tell how this revelation goes down but we are hoping it will spark more conversations about race disparities behind the scenes in the Canadian television industry and effect change.
[video_embed id='2158522']BEFORE YOU GO: Simu Liu is saddened by the cancellation of ‘Kim’s Convenience’[/video_embed]