Yesterday, some rather off-color promotional material for a live play by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) caught the internet’s attention. And by “off-color,” I mean “extremely racist.”
As you can see, the flyers featured actors in blackface promoting a segment of the play actually called “The Blacks.” According to the promotional material, the play, written by and featuring members of the sketch comedy show Gag Concert and intended to be part of the Busan International Comedy Festival, is a modern adaptation of an older sketch comedy series called “Humor 1” or “Humor 1st Street.” Since the backlash, however, KBS has removed the blackface characters and the “Blacks” reference from their promotional material.
Unfortunately, Korea has a very well-documented history of blackface. In July, a K-pop star caught flak for using blackface to portray an already pretty racist cartoon character from a kids show. This past April, another Korean TV network apologized after catching backlash over a skit featured an actress in blackface (and a feather headdress and a cabbage skirt) dancing to the Lion King.
KBS and Gag Concert also came under fire two years ago over a performance that used blackface to portray Africans.
Korea is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries on the planet, and has essentially imported much of U.S. pop culture—including racist and stereotypical portrayals of black people—while allowing K-pop stars to appropriate black and hip hop culture. And it has a pronounced anti-black racism problem. Put that all together, and you get the horrors of “The Blacks.”