The new drama from MBC, “Man Who Dies To Live,” offended numerous Muslims when the first two episodes aired this week.
The drama is about an average worker who goes to a fictional kingdom in the Middle East and somehow ends up a ruler. Later, he goes back to South Korea to see his daughter, challenging their relationship and making them both learn what it means to be “family.”
While the premise is somewhat questionable to begin with (considering he becomes a count in the Middle East), the drama still had a lot of potential as it was going to explore the Middle East and the culture there that has never been truly displayed on Korean television. While dramas have been filmed in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and more, this is one of the first to talk about Middle Eastern cultures. Unfortunately, the potential was left by the wayside as the program offended Arabs and Muslims around the world who are also lovers of Kpop and Kdramas.
The male lead takes cultural appropriation to the extreme by dressing in traditional, Middle-Eastern style outfits, wearing his hair and beard in a similar style to those in Dubai (the place that inspired the fictional kingdom, as well as the actual filming location of the drama), and darkening his skin until it’s bronze and golden. The character even admits to his cultural appropriation by talking bad about Korea and justifying why he identifies more as an Arab.
Not only that, the drama also stepped on toes when it took aspects of both Arab culture and the Muslim religion and turned it into a joke. In one scene, it shows Muslim women wearing hijabs with bikinis, taking a very important symbol of the faith to Muslim women and turning it into a joke with sexual undertones as the voluptuous women lounge about.
In the official poster for the drama, they use the Quran as a decoration on the table in front of the male lead. The man also has his feet propped up casually, exposing his dusty heels to the religious text— a very offensive move to Muslims.
In another scene, a king tries to get the male lead to marry one of his daughters. He then proceeds to order the man to marry her, inferring that the women had no choice (or even a voice) in the matter. He then goes on to say, “Buy one princess and have the other two for free,” joking that they were nothing more than items to be sold in order to get them off his hands.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first case of MBC allowing disrespect for a religion. Earlier this month, Kpop queen Lee Hyori held a special stage on an MBC music show and danced very sexually as an important Hindu prayer played as her music. The song was the Gayatri Mantra, the most sacred of all texts and prayers to Hindu people and something children are taught almost as soon as they can speak. However, the important religious text was used as a song for Hyori as she danced sexually in skimpy clothes, offending numerous Hindus when they saw the video.
What the actual fuck. pic.twitter.com/IZ7vrZHqUv
— sharvi (@phanhseok) July 7, 2017
The problem is that Koreans face prejudice and racism themselves (just see the recent events with KARD in Brazil where they were openly mocked on TV for having “slanted” eyes and not being able to see properly). But even though they face such prejudice themselves, it’s unfortunately a problem that foreigners also face from Koreans. Not only do black and white people get made fun of or stereotyped (as you can see in our recent article about blackface and prejudice in Korea), now these cases of “brownface” and cultural appropriation and disrespect are being aimed at Muslims and Arabs in general. This is leading to more problems for Muslims who live in Korea, as you can see in the video below on an episode of “Hello Counselor.”
There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world, meaning that they make up almost 1/6 of the world’s population. Not only that, Arabs countries have a huge demand for Kpop and Kdramas. So, why is MBC risking offending such a large market with so many fans just to get a few laughs out of their Korean viewers?
The drama stars one of Korea’s top actors, Choi Min Soo. This means that ratings are high (already reaching over 10%) and exposing a very large Korean audience to the mocking of Arab culture and the Muslim religion. If a television show mocked Korean culture or the Buddhist religion, would they find it funny or find it offensive?
As a result of the show, many Muslim fans (as well as non-Muslims) are calling for a boycott of this show and asking MBC to stop broadcasting it, trending #JusticeForIslam on Twitter.
What is most unfortunate is that instead of playing to stereotypes and disrespecting other people’s religions, this program—filled with such amazing actors— could have been a delightful, funny show that also exposed people to the lovely, rich culture of the Middle East. Instead, it has just ended up offending and hurting many of its viewers instead.
*Since the time this article was published, MBC has officially apologized for hurting and offending Muslims around the globe. However, the drama will still continue to air. As a result, many people are still asking MBC to pull the drama or calling on other Kdrama fans to boycott the show.
What do you think? Is this a problem for Muslims and Arabs worldwide? Should the show be pulled? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
lee1086 is the co-founder and director of What The Kpop. When not writing or editing articles, she is watching Kpop music videos or Kdramas. She is a huge fan of Super Junior and the perfection known as Eunsihae. When not obsessing over the flawlessness of Donghae or trying to decide if her SHINee bias is Taemin or Key, she is playing the piano, loving on her dog, and hanging out with her family and friends
Media: As Credited
*The views expressed in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the entire WTK staff as a whole.