The Korea Herald


Drama ‘King the Land’ criticized for cultural insensitivity

By Lee Si-jin

Published : July 11, 2023 - 14:37

    • Link copied

A screenshot from A screenshot from "King the Land" (JTBC)

Cable channel JTBC’s latest rom-com series, “King the Land,” has come under fire over its character Prince Samir, with criticisms directed at the show's misleading representation of Arabic culture.

Samir -- who is introduced as a prince with an Arabic background -- made his first appearance in the seventh episode of “King the Land” on July 8, surrounded by the women in a club.

As Samir was scheduled to visit South Korea to negotiate the import of Korean warplanes, the lead character, Gu Won (Lee Jun-ho), the head general manager of King Hotel and a longtime friend of Samir, invites the prince to stay in his hotel.

Throughout the two episodes that aired last weekend, Samir was portrayed as a gullible, rich prince, who seems to solve problems with his money.

When the female lead, Cheon Sa-rang (played by Im Yoona), becomes uncomfortable with Samir's constant sweet talking, Gu Won tells her that Samir is a womanizer with a history of dating over 100 women and marrying multiple times.

After the release of the episodes in question, viewers expressed their disappointment on the online film and drama database platform IMDb.

Viewers criticized not only the casting of a non-Arabic actor for the role, but also the show's portrayal of offensive stereotypes, according to the comments on IMDb.

“This is not the first time Arabs are shown to be dumb, rich people who only care about money in Korean dramas and I want it to be the last,” one comment read.

“King the Land” is a romance series that soared to No. 4 on streaming analytics company FlixPatrol's global top 10 TV series chart.

According to data released by the platform Tuesday, the series was the most popular TV show in Oman and Saudi Arabia.

It ranked second in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, and third in Morocco.

Korean viewers also called out the cultural insensitivity and expressed their thoughts on the official website for “King the Land,” claiming that such issues need to be apologized for, not only to appeal to global viewers, but also to raise awareness of foreign culture and to avoid cultural appropriation.

A screenshot from the official website for “King the Land” shows comments on the ongoing controversy surrounding the representation of Arabic culture in the series. (JTBC) A screenshot from the official website for “King the Land” shows comments on the ongoing controversy surrounding the representation of Arabic culture in the series. (JTBC)

JTBC said that the characters are fictional and that “King the Land” does not intend to mock or distort a specific culture.

“The production team respects various cultures. We will take social and cultural sensitivity into account and pay more attention so that the viewers may enjoy the series without feeling uncomfortable,” a JTBC official told The Korea Herald.

This is not the first time that a Korean broadcaster has issued an apology over misleading or inaccurate representations of foreign cultures.

In 2021, SBS came under fire for portraying Indonesia as a country that is incompetent at hosting sports events and discriminatory against foreign athletes in its drama, “Racket Boys.”

Cable channel tvN’s mystery thriller, “Little Women” (2022), was banned from Netflix’s service in Vietnam after Vietnam’s Department of Broadcasting, Television and Electronic Information said that the series featured misleading information about the country and the Vietnam War.