Could you please talk about the controversy surrounding the new drama ‘Snowdrop’? As a non-Korean drama fan, I am rather clueless as to the huge backlash this show is receiving from fans. But to my surprise, the internet community is clearly divided whether the show should be taken off-air or not.
So it will really help drama fans like me to know what and how do you feel about this controversy.
Thank you in advance.
Thanks for your question!
I’m sorry that it’s taken me a while to answer your question. In actual fact, my opinion of this controversy has continued to evolve, over the few weeks since news of the controversy broke.
Additionally, I wanted to see for myself, exactly what Show was serving up, since jTBC has insisted that watching the show up to episode 5, would help to clear any misunderstandings that people might have, about the show distorting history.
This is my attempt at laying it all out, while keeping it as simple as possible.
I’ve tried to give as broad and balanced a view as possible, but it’s also very possible that I might have missed something important. Therefore, everyone, as always, feel free to share your own insights in the comments below!
PS: Just in case anyone’s wondering, I will not be commenting on the actual quality of the drama, in this post. I feel that that’s more relevant for the review or dropped post – whichever it turns out to be.
Update: It turned out to be a Dropped post – which you can check out here.
What’s the controversy about?
Here are a number of facts that I think are important to know, about this situation.
1. There was general unrest about Snowdrop even before the show began its run.
When Joseon Exorcist was pulled off the air for historical and cultural inaccuracies and insensitivity in March 2021, Snowdrop was also pulled into the fray, with detractors demanding that the show be prevented from airing as well.
At the time, jTBC had assured everyone that the show did not distort history, and requested that everyone wait until the show aired, to see that there was, indeed, no distortion of history.
2. Snowdrop began its run on 18 December 2021, and on 19 December 2021, a petition was submitted to the Blue House, with more than 200,000 signatures collected, requesting that the show be taken off the air. At this point, 3 CF sponsors had also pulled out.
The petitioner wrote:
“At that time, the production team had no intention of doing so and they claimed, ‘The setting of the democratization movement which is led or participated by the male and female leads does not appear anywhere in the script’. However, in episode 1, which was aired recently, the female lead misunderstood the male lead as a spy and saved him.”
“During the pro-democracy movement, there were clearly victims, such as activists, who were tortured and killed for being spies. Despite these historical facts, creating a drama with such content clearly undermines the value of the democratization movement.”
This petition gained momentum, collecting more than 300,000 signatures by 21 December. By 22 December, there were 30 active petitions to the Blue House demanding the drama’s cancelation. Sponsors and advertisers have continued to drop out.
3. On 21 December, jTBC responded with a statement, basically saying that the show isn’t distorting history, but that this would only become clear in later episodes. They asked people to be patient and wait for the later episodes to air, which would purportedly put everything in perspective.
They also opened a real-time chat service, so that viewers could express their opinions, as the episodes aired.
4. On 23 December, jTBC announced that they would air an extra episode on its second weekend on the air, because they said that this would help to clear up any misunderstandings about the plot.
5. On 29 December, the Seoul Western District Court dismissed the Declaration of Global Citizens in Korea’s request for an injunction to stop airing the drama. In short, the court has ruled that the show can continue to air (article here).
6. To date, there hasn’t yet been an official response from the Blue House regarding the petitions.
Other points of interest
1. The naming of the female lead
One of the things that detractors have taken issue with, is the naming of the female lead character.
In March 2021, the character’s name was changed from Young Cho to Yeong Ro, because the name Young Cho, had come under scrutiny for being an uncommon name, that was distinctly similar to the name of real-life pro-democracy activist Chun Young Cho, who had survived torture and questioning (article here).
jTBC denied that the character had been named in reference to Chun Young Cho, but stated that the character’s name would be changed.
2. The portrayal of the ANSP
Another key point which detractors of the show have been emphasizing, is that the Agency for National Security Planning (ANSP), which had served as South Korea’s intelligence agency during that period, is highly inaccurate.
By all accounts, the ANSP used very cruel methods against the activists in the democracy movement, and the ANSP agents in the show are shown to be much tamer and unreasonably civil in comparison.
Historically, the ANSP had tortured and even killed student activists, claiming them to be North Korean spies.
This has touched a very raw nerve with the Korean public, as many people suffered terribly at the hands of the ANSP, and the general sentiment, is that the show is whitewashing government misconduct during the era, and glorifying the ANSP.
True or False?
In order to have an informed opinion about this, I’ve watched all the available episodes of Snowdrop (which is 7, at the time of this posting), just to see for myself what the show is serving up.
Here are the various accusations against the show, and my take, after having seen the first 7 episodes.
[SOME BROAD HIGH LEVEL SPOILERS, GOING FORWARD]
1. The ANSP is being whitewashed: TRUE – to some extent
If accounts of the cruelty practiced by the ANSP are true (and there isn’t any reason to believe that they are not true), then yes, the ANSP in this drama world is a far cry from the vicious, cruel, ruthless ANSP from people’s actual experiences and memories.
As some netizens have put it, it’s like saying that the Nazis weren’t actually that bad.
At the same time, there are references to the torture in the show, like characters mentioning that the ANSP can turn you into a North Korean spy if they want to, and also, characters casually mentioning that other characters have been through various forms of torture. So they aren’t painted as innocent of these deeds, even though we are not shown the torture on-screen.
2. The North Korean regime is portrayed as being behind the Gwangju Uprising: FALSE
At least up to the point that I have watched, the democracy movement exists in this drama world, but only tangentially. It’s adjacent to the main plot, but so far, not part of the main plot.
The closest we see Jung Hae In’s character (or any other North Korean spy) come close to a pro-democracy protest, is when he runs past one.
Therefore, it’s completely untrue that the show is putting forth the idea that some of the pro-democracy activists were indeed North Korean spies.
3. North Korean spies are glamorized: NOT REALLY
Male lead Jung Hae In is a North Korean spy, and while we do see him doing secret spy stuff and shooting people and giving off dark looks, he is also humanized.
When we first meet him and get to know him, we do not know yet, that he is a North Korean spy. By the time we are clear that he’s a North Korea spy, we’ve already grown connected to him as a character, to some extent.
During the shoot-out scenes between the North Korean spies and the ANSP, I found myself rooting more for Jung Hae In’s character than the ANSP, even though his character is North Korean – because I’d already grown connected to him as a character, like I mentioned earlier.
However, I don’t necessarily see this as Show trying to glorify the North Korean spies, as much as Show trying to humanize the various people caught in the various factions – and the North Korean spies happen to be some of those people.
What is Show trying to do, really?
Honestly, I think the show wants to be an epic “Romeo and Juliet” type of story, where two young people meet outside of their personal contexts, and are drawn to each other.
And then, when reality bites, and their identities of being offspring of people who are on opposite sides comes into play, that’s where the emotional struggle comes in.
Jung Hae In’s character is from the North, and he’s the son of a political leader in the North, while Jisoo’s character is from the South, and she’s the daughter of a political leader in the South.
The show doesn’t appear to be all that interested in the pro-democracy protests (so far), and the main focus seems to be on the idea that the party in power is colluding with the North Korean government in order to stay in power.
One other thing that I think Show wants to do, is humanize the people behind the labels, of North Korean spy, privileged daughter of a political leader, ANSP agent, etc.
While it doesn’t seem like Show’s makers had set out to distort history, I do think that it was.. unwise, as well as insensitive, to use certain names (like the original Young Cho) and circumstances (like a professor trying to get to North Korea to be with his son) that dance too close to history.
Another thing that doesn’t really help, is Show pitching itself as a black comedy. It might be argued that the black comedy angle is to help people not take the story too seriously, BUT.. it can also be taken as Show making light of other people’s pain.
Why are people upset?
So, on paper, it doesn’t really appear that the show is distorting history too badly, except for the whitewashing of the ANSP. If that’s the case, why are people as upset as they are?
Unfortunately, this show has touched a very raw nerve with the Korean public. It may not technically be distorting the history of the Gwangju Uprising as many had initially assumed, but it sits soclose to this very painful event, that it’s caused barely closed, very deep, very painful wounds to open up again.
It’s kinda like you have this deep, terrible gash in your abdomen, which has gotten stitched up, and someone’s poking, not at the wound itself, but half an inch away from the stitches, which are barely healing. You could say they’re technically not poking at your wound, but man, doesn’t it still cause your wound to hurt like crazy, and the stitches to threaten to open up?
The original use of the name Young Cho didn’t help matters, as you can imagine.
Even though we’ve seen stories from South Korea feature North Korean spies as protagonists (like Kim Soo Hyun‘s 2013 film Secretly, Greatly), this is one instance where the mere existence of North Korean spies in a drama world, leads to instant connections to painful memories. That’s because innocent people had literally died during this period of history, after being accused of being North Korean spies.
While some might argue that this is history, and people should be allowed creative license when portraying a particular time period, it’s also important to remember that 1987 was only 35 years ago, and many of the people are still haunted by the cruelties that they &/or their loved ones had suffered, at the time.
Right now, it’s just too much, too soon, I think. Maybe 50 years from now, people will have healed enough to tolerate this kind of story in the media. Maybe they won’t.
The truth is, people all heal at different rates, and to different degrees. Some people heal faster than others; some never heal, ever. Some countries might be able to move on faster from a horrific historical event; other countries might not move on as quickly. I think it’s important to acknowledge that. As Dramaland put forth to us not so long ago, it’s okay to not be okay.
In a true democracy, creative license should be given, and shows like this should be allowed to exist. AND, in a true democracy, if people are not okay with this, they should be allowed to express that they are not okay, and protest against the airing of the show.
..Which, essentially, is what appears to be happening.
Additionally, it occurs to me that because there is so much controversy around this show, there is very little chance of anyone watching it, without knowing the furore it has caused. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the show itself would propagate historical distortion as fact.
In terms of where I think is a good place to stand in all of this, as third party observers, I’m reminded of this quote that I came across some time ago, and which I’d shared to Twitter, because I’d found it such good food for thought.
The truth is, for most of us, this isn’t our history, and this isn’t our culture. And that’s a large part of the reason we are able to view the situation with emotional distance. That emotional distance is our privilege, and I think it’s important to remember that the Korean public’s upset reaction to this show, is not because they have a smaller capacity to be objective.
It’s because this is their emotional pain.
In my opinion, whether or not to watch Snowdrop, is a personal choice. I did start watching the show myself, in order to have an informed opinion for this post. Therefore, whether people choose to watch this show or not, I don’t think they should be vilified, one way or the other.
Regardless of our personal choices, I hope that we can choose compassion, kindness and empathy, particularly for those who are directly affected by this controversy.
I hope this post has helped to provide at least a measure of perspective, regarding the entire controversy.
Like I mentioned earlier, if you guys have insights, perspectives or other thoughts to add, please share them in the comments!
Thanks, everyone. ❤️
1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!
WHERE TO WATCH:
To check out Snowdrop for yourself, you can find it on Disney+ here.
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