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‘Kim’s Convenience’ Star: Now’s the Time for Artists of Color

September 17, 2019, 3:25 AM UTC

It took Asian-Canadian actress Jean Yoon years to get a breakout role on television. But now, as one of the stars of the hit Canadian sitcom Kim’s Convenience, she says the entertainment industry is starting to recognize big business opportunities that come with creating shows for underserved audiences.

“It’s very clear to broadcasters and advertisers that there’s an audience that’s not served and is hungry,” Yoon said. “This is the time for those projects to be successful.”

But the development is relatively recent, said Yoon, who told her story at Fortune’s MPW International Summit in Toronto on Monday. When she was studying to become an actress in the ’80s, her theater teachers advised her against pursuing a career in entertainment, given that there were relatively few acting opportunities for people of color in Canada.

“Even back then, I was aware that I was at the forefront of a demographic wave that was going to eventually become what we’re seeing now,” she said. “This maturing of Asian-American voices and Asian-Canadian voices.”

Yoon stuck with it, telling her high school drama teachers that even if she didn’t get a role right away, when she got older she could play the “Asian mom” roles. And that’s exactly what happened. 

Now, she plays the family matriarch Umma, a witty Korean immigrant who meddles in the lives of her family members. And she’s recognized around the world for her role in the series, which recently won most popular foreign drama at the 2019 Seoul International Drama Awards.

“What I find really interesting is how broad a reach it’s had, whether in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia,” she said. “Once the show dropped on Netflix, the response around the globe was little overwhelming.”

Before becoming an actress, Yoon tried her hand at writing for television. At one point, she wrote a pilot, found a producer, and was shopping the script to different broadcasters. 

But the reception was less than welcoming.

“I was literally told at the time, ‘We love this … We need a white lead,’” she said. “It was not the right time for that show.”

And although Yoon has just completed shooting season four of ‘Kim’s Convenience’, and fully expects the show to be renewed for season five, her dreams of writing have never died. She’s said she’s now at the stage where she can focus on her own writing and develop her own voice. 

In regards to what she’s working on, she gave one small teaser: “I want to do a one-woman type of thing,” she said.