I’ve been binge watching Gilmore Girls in a controlled environment and I am surprised in how much I enjoy the show. At first I thought, “What the hell is the big deal about a show that follows a mother and a daughter?” That question is what has been holding me back for 14 years (it’s surprising, with the exception of some of the fashion choices, how much the show holds up after a decade and change). Turns out, it is a big deal. The writing is snappy, there’s a magical heightened reality in this small fictional town of Stars Hollow (that is obviously the Universal Studios backlot) and the pop culture references are funny as much as they are rampant. However, there is one component of the show that makes me cringe with snarl: Mrs. Kim.
For those of you who are not Gilmore Heads, Mrs. Kim is Lane Kim’s mom. Both are Korean American characters. Lane is Rory’s BFF. And Rory is Lorelai’s daughter. And Lorelai and Rory are the titular Gilmore Girls. Get it? Good.
Back to Mrs. Kim.
Now, I try to leave my militant, idealistic, “Asian Power” in 2002, but when I see a character like Mrs. Kim, I can’t help but let my blood boil just a little bit. Questions start to pop up in my head. Did a white person write this character? Does she HAVE to have this ridiculous accent? (Emily Kuroda, the actress who plays Mrs. Kim, was born in Fresno. Last time I checked, Koreans who were born in Fresno don’t have heavy accents.) Does she HAVE to be an over-the-top, dare I say, Tiger Mom?
Seeing that this show debuted in 2000, I may be late to this discussion. In fact, I know I am. But I feel the need to bring it up again, because we can always use a revisit to the portrayal of Asian American actors. Also, the discussion involves my opinion so that’s important, right? RIGHT?!
I am all for Asian Americans working in Hollywood. I want more of it, but the problem is the roles written for them. This made me think of the chat I had with Steve Byrne a while back. I understand why Asian Americans take roles that are stereotypical — especially in the case of Kuroda as Mrs. Kim. They probably weren’t many non-stereotypical Asian American roles in 2000 so they just took what they can get because, well, it’s good to get paid for what you love doing. And a paycheck gets you food and shelter. And food and shelter allow you to live a life. And that is all good.
There are real-life Mrs. Kims out there, but I find it hard to believe that they are as over-the-top and two-dimensional as portrayed in Gilmore Girls. I am only two seasons into the show, but it bothers me that all we know about Mrs. Kim is that she is mean, strict and religious. They tell us nothing else to inform her actions. It wouldn’t bother me as much if she didn’t have a heavy accent. But in the end, it’s an irritating character we all hate. She treats her daughter like a prisoner and she treats other people like shit. There is no redeeming quality to this character and it adds no value to the show. And to top it all off, she owns a messy antiques store that is crowded with crap. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this Tiger Mom is a hoarder as well.
The show was created by Amy Sherman-Palladino so my guess is that she created the character of Mrs. Kim. She probably based it on someone she knew or created her out of thin air. Either way, there is something unsettling about a white woman creating an Asian character that is a caricature. Perhaps I am jumping the gun and Mrs. Kim gets fleshed out into a more three dimensional character in the later seasons, but for now, I am not diggin’ it.
That all said, watching Gilmore Girls and the character of Mrs. Kim makes me examine what has changed in terms of Asian American characters. We no longer see that many stereotypical Asian characters in TV. Race is becoming less and less of a factor for Asian Americans in dramas and comedies. Take a look at Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project, Aziz Ansari in Parks and Recreation, and John Cho in Selfie. Their characters’ ethnicities are on the back burner which allows them to deliver great, non-stereotypical performances as actors.
I appreciate Kuroda’s performance. It seems that she took one for the team with this role. I’m just bothered by the unnecessary Asian qualities that were pinned on to her character. Mrs. Kim would be just as effective if she had no accent and wasn’t a stern domestic Tiger Mom tyrant. That’s all that I am saying. I still love all my pals at Stars Hollow.