In 1937, Korea’s legendary actor and filmmaker Na Woon-kyu was quoted by the local daily Chosun Ilbo as saying that movie directors should “become like pimps to treat actresses as if they are prostitutes.”
This perception of female entertainers in the male-dominated Korean society has changed little, critics here said.
Their comments came after news reports said a Taiwanese singer named Estrella Lin, a former member of girl group 3EP Beauties, claimed she was asked to sell sex to Korean investors in the entertainment industry during her stay in Korea.
The details about the name of the management company she was working for and the alleged situation have not been revealed.
“I was forced to ‘sexually’ entertain investors but I never allowed myself to do so. I’m not afraid of Koreans protesting because what I said is so true,” she was quoted as saying by multiple news reports.
The reopening of the sensitive issue of the coerced sex trade for work and benefits in the entertainment world brought back the question of why police and prosecutors have not got to the bottom of the sex trade issue, despite the suicide of Korean actress Jang Ja-yeon in March 2009. Jang left a note saying she suffered forced “sponsorship” by her agency owner.
At that time, the police said it had identified five corporate figures, including a securities firm executive, a CEO, a drama director and three media moguls as major suspects who might have had sex with the late actress.
However, the year-long investigation ended up finding “little evidence,” according to the police, and the case was closed in April this year.
Yu Gi-na, film critic and professor at Dongguk University, said the Taiwanese singer’s allegations not only demonstrate unjust business malpractices in the local entertainment industry but the entire male-dominated society’s discrimination, distortion, and ignorance of women in general.
“Men who have power and high rank seem to think their power is bigger if they have sex with popular female entertainers in secrecy,” Yu told The Korea Herald.
“This malpractice and wrong perception about women is so prevalent that men would not even recognize it as a human rights problem, generally,” she said.
Another problem is women’s duplicity in their fight against men’s sexist remarks or behavior, Yu added.
“Even when highly-educated women face sexual harassment, they think they’ll be in trouble if they speak up. That should be fixed too,” she said.
For Korean female entertainers, receiving a proposal to have sex in return for fame or money from influential figures is an open secret. Korean model Lee Pa-ni early this year revealed in a TV show that she was once made such an offer.
According to a recent report by the National Human Rights Commission, more than 60 percent of the 351 actresses and those aspiring to be actresses questioned said they had received at least one proposal for a sex deal from TV officials or other influential figures.
“I was asked to go out and meet someone. There was a man, about my father’s age, who said ‘I will let you become whatever you become, if you let me buy your youth,’” a 20-something actress was quoted as saying in the human rights report.
More often than not, female entertainers get unfairly treated because of their “slave” contracts with the management companies.
To fix the problem, the Fair Trade Commission has ordered 57 small and medium-sized entertainment companies to fix their unfair contracts. The watchdog is also working on a standardized contract for the entertainment industry.
Kim Tae-hoon, an attorney at Yoon & Yang LLC, stressed that the entertainment industry needs transparent, standardized contracts.
Just like in the U.S., Korea needs to make an “agent law” to stipulate the qualification details of the entertainment firm and funding methods, Kim said.
When an entertainer and a management company sign on a standardized contract, the document should be approved by the authorities such as the National Labor Relations Commission, he said.
“All walks of entertainers and producers in Korea should stage a nation-wide campaign to end the malpractice and take actions,” Kim said.
By Kim Yoon-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)