South African Bronwyn Mullen, 30, is grateful for how far she’s come in the Korean TV industry, but she’s the first to admit that it wasn’t easy and no one ever gave her a “golden ticket.”
She said that things were a lot different when she started out.
“Eight years ago, when I first came to Korea, there were no female-dominated TV shows. Within eight years of being in the industry, it still has a way to go, but it’s changed so much,” she said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
“I think we’re so lucky that some women are leading the way, and some women are sort of breaking the glass ceilings and challenging male co-emcees and challenging fellow panelist on things they’ve said.”
Bronwyn got her start on KBS’ “Global Talk Show.” She said her first six months she was “in a bubble” because of her inability to speak Korean fluently. Because of that, she wasn’t fully aware of the harsh realities awaiting women who decide to go into Korean TV.
“I think it was extremely challenging after the first six months when the reality began to hit that I’m on a hit show, there are a huge number of fans and many people have been welcoming and interested, but there are also rivals. There are also critics. And there are also netizens.”
She calls Korean netizens a breed of their own. And with their anonymity, they act almost inhuman. She calls herself lucky that the worst her critics said back in those days was that she wasn’t pretty and she couldn’t speak Korean well, but she said some of the girls she worked with would get it a lot worse.
After one season, she left the talk show, wanting to try new things and do shows that would allow her to step outside the box that she had been placed in. She said she felt uncomfortable with the way she was being edited for the show, which made her seem less intelligent than she was.
|Bronwyn Mullen. ( Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“I felt very caged in and I felt I was losing my freedom to choose what I wanted to do and how I wanted to portray myself,” she said.
She said the Korean TV industry is about categorizing ― the sexy girl, the cute girl, the comedienne and so on ― and once you’re in a certain category, it’s hard to break out of it. She said it bothers her because she believes that all women are a little bit of everything.
“I think, within each woman, we all carry a little piece of each one of these characters,” she said. It is this diversity within each woman, she added, that sets women apart from men.
Since she left, she has gone on to do a little bit of everything, she says, from travel and food shows to documentary-style shows and news programs. She traveled to Congo with a KBS news show to highlight the issue of rape, especially in Africa where in some countries a woman is raped every seven seconds.
“Not everybody reads the news every day, unfortunately. And not everyone is up to speed with what’s going on in the world,” she said. “But somebody like myself who does have a fan following, and does have some people interested in what I’m doing ... in the larger chunk of my time, I really try to do something that has meaning and depth.”
Another one of those moments came last year when she was a panelist on a morning news program for Channel A. She said she was the foreign and female representative, and the emcee had asked her opinion on North and South Korean relations. While giving it, another panelist cut her off, essentially saying she had no right to comment. She listened and then rebutted by speaking on how it’s a global issue and everyone should be involved in voicing their opinions.
“And he was stunned. He just could not believe that that I had taken such a stand. And it’s on live television, so a bit awkward, but the response was so positive and wonderful from everybody around,” she said.
She added that in entertainment, men will pool their talent and support each other, something she also sees happening among foreigners in Korean entertainment as well. Yet, women still seem to be critical of each other.
She said she hopes women in Korean TV will be kinder to each other and more supportive on a soul-to-soul level rather than attacking one another. When it comes to entertainment, the “claws really do come out,” but being critical of each other draws women away from where they’ve come in the industry.
“So often I’ve seen people I work with make unkind, jealous or critical comments of somebody else we’re on a show with, and it really hurts my heart. I try not to do that because I think that it takes away from how far we have come.”
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)