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#MeToo Movement Brings Fast Change to South Korea’s Film Business

The industry is starting to deal with a culture of widespread sexual harassment

The #MeToo campaign has rocked South Korea, especially its film industry, and the impact is lasting.

Kim Ki-duk, pictured above, one of the country’s most renowned filmmakers, and actor Cho Jae-hyun have been accused by a number of victims of sexual misconduct, including rape.

Also accused of sexually harassing his students at a university where he taught drama, veteran TV actor Jo Min-ki killed himself after multiple allegations surfaced.

Although the Korean entertainment industry has been no stranger to sex crimes and sexploitation, institutional remedies have been impractical, if not absent. However, as dozens of cases have come to light and the campaign has gained momentum across the country, the film industry, women’s organizations and the government have started coming up with corrective measures.

In March, the Korean national assembly’s Education, Culture, Sport and Tourism Committee, the Korean Film Council and Women in Film Korea co-launched Deun-Deun: Center for Gender Equality in Korean Film, which will counsel and support victims, conduct gender researches in the industry and suggest policies.

At the center’s opening event, KOFIC chairman Oh Seok-geun said, “Those who are convicted of sexual violence will be excluded from KOFIC’s support programs.”

In the same month, Jin Sun-mee, a human-rights lawyer-turned-lawmaker in the ruling party, proposed a victim-protection law as well as an anti-sexual violence law specifically for the film industry: the former is designed to protect the victims and their legal representatives from the assailants’ complaints, while the latter is to prevent human rights violation such as sexual violence and unfair labor practices often exerted on the film industry laborers.

A recent survey conducted by Deun-Deun indicated that 46.1% of film industry workers have suffered sexual violence and harassment. The data showed that 61.5% of the victims were women, indicating female staff are experiencing the brunt of unwanted physical contact from male colleagues.

The movement seems to be forming a social consensus about gender equality in the country more widely than ever. A petition calling on government to reopen the case of the late actress Jang Ja-yeon received some 200,000 signatures clearly proves the trend.

In 2009, Jang committed suicide with a letter chronicling how her agent forced her to have sex with sponsors who help talent get roles in popular TV and film projects. When the case was initially investigated, the prosecution indicted only the CEO of Jang’s agency and her manager on violence and defamation charges. Others on the list ended up not being charged. In April, the Justice Ministry called on prosecutors to reexamine the case nine years after her death.

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