The famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has recently drawn some criticism after he referred to the cast of Squid Game as ‘unknown people’ while speaking at a panel as one of the nominees for the PGA Awards Zanuck Award.
As the discussion turned to the importance of movie stars in casting for film or TV series, Steven Spielberg praised Squid Game for spearheading the change that streaming services are bringing in terms of casting, as he believes that streaming services are making it easier to cast unknown actors in lead roles.
Squid Game comes along and changes the math entirely for all of us.
— Steven Spielberg
According to the director, casting used to revolve around putting bankable names in lead roles. Now, however, the ‘star system’ has changed. While he still believes big names are required to anchor projects, he hopes that streaming services will allow directors more freedom to cast unknown names.
A long time ago it was domestic stars that brought the audience into movies. Today, it’s interesting, unknown people [who] can star [in] entire miniseries, can be in movies.
— Steven Spielberg
These comments have drawn criticism from netizens online, who believe they come across as somewhat condescending, insular, or narrow-minded. After all, several of Squid Game’s stars were famous in Korea long before they were cast in the hit Netflix show. Veteran actor Lee Jung Jae has been a successful and prominent figure throughout his entire career, which spans 30 years. Additionally, Jung Ho Yeon already had her own career as a model before she starred in Squid Game.
Unknown? They're stars in Korea. Not everything is about American actors
— THE RAMTIN (@ramtinology91) March 22, 2022
This is just pathetic and patronizing at this point. Just because you do not know an international star doesn’t make them a lesser celebrity, stop being so limited in perspective and belittling 🤬 https://t.co/NDuPYizE6N
— Tamar Herman (@TamarWrites) March 22, 2022
Some netizens have defended Spielberg’s comments, saying that they have been misinterpreted; Spielberg could have been referring to actors who are unknown to American audiences, specifically, and not just ‘unknown’ in the general sense.
This is not the first time the cast of Squid Game has been on the receiving end of potentially condescending comments from Western media. Both Lee Jung Jae and Jung Ho Yeon have received praise in the past for their professionalism when handling questions about their recognizability. At a special screening of the K-Drama in California, Lee Jung Jae was asked what the biggest change in his life had been since starring in Squid Game, with the reporter saying, “I’m sure you can’t leave the house anymore without people recognizing you. What has been the biggest life change for you since the series came out?”
Similarly, after the cast won majorly at the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards (including the categories for best ‘Female Actor’ and best ‘Male Actor in a Drama Series’ for Jung Ho Yeon and Lee Jung Jae respectively) Jung Ho Yeon had a polite response when the cast was asked, “Now that you’re SAG winners, what are you going to miss the most about being anonymous?” While Steven Spielberg may not have had any bad intentions when praising Squid Game as a game changer for the entertainment industry, his comments, like the reporters’ questions to Jung Ho Yeon and Lee Jung Jae, could perhaps have been worded differently.
You can read further about Jung Ho Yeon’s response to the reporter’s ‘ignorant’ question below.