Scanlen and her production team removed the scene from the film after concerns were raised that it may be “triggering” and the amended version was posted online by the Sydney Film Festival. Scanlen issued an apology on behalf of everyone who made the film.
On Wednesday, a group of prominent writers and filmmakers, including Warwick Thornton, Ivan Sen, Phillip Noyce, Rachel Perkins, Tony Ayres, and Nash and Joel Edgerton, signed an open letter saying the controversy showed something “dangerously askew in the way that we are talking about race in the arts in this country”.
Dr Park, a senior lecturer in gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney, said she had “no issue with white Australian schoolgirls really getting into mukbang and making it their own”.
“How does this internet phenomenon lead to this girl’s sexual awakening? It’s a fantastic premise for a film, I want to see it,” Dr Park said.
But Dr Park said she could empathise with critics of the film, many of whom were “young diasporic women of colour in the industry” tired of not seeing themselves represented on or off the screen.
“Other groups are seen as backdrop, or sidekicks or narrative devices that help with the evolution of a white character,” Dr Park said.
Korean-Australian actor and comedian Chanu Choi said the film was “not racist”.
“She’s adopted Korean internet culture, she’s used the name mukbang, she didn’t whitewash it and name it ‘binge-eating sesh’. If she was racist she would have got rid of the whole mukbang thing,” Choi said.
Equating a white filmmaker referencing Korean culture to “white supremacism” is misguided, said Mr Choi. “It’s like saying white people can’t listen to Korean music. Maybe the eating disorder lobby should get more offended rather than Koreans.”
The Korean perspective on Scanlen’s film comes as 153 prominent artists and writers, including Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling and Salmon Rushdie, wrote an open letter on Wednesday warning against “the intolerant climate” that was stifling “the free exchange of information and ideas”.
Australian National University Korean studies expert Roald Maliangkaij said mukbang itself unquestionably springs from specific Korean conditions.
“It became really big there, the first mukbang stars were Korean,” he said. “That doesn’t make it Korean per se, but Korea is a culture with enormous working hours, limited chances for people to socialise over a meal, so that’s part of it.”
The film was clearly a Western interpretation of mukbang but Dr Maliangkaij said he didn’t think adopting a part of a culture in this way intrinsically amounted to cultural appropriation.
“I don’t think it’s very insensitive for people to say, ‘OK tonight in Sydney we’re going to have a mukbang night’. I don’t think people back in Korea would be at all upset by that.”
“The internet accelerates what has been happening for eons, where ideas travel and change,” said Dr Park.
“Any piece of creative work, on some deep level, has been appropriated. We’re always stealing other people’s ideas, and then making them your own, telling a story. There’s a really thin line between appropriation and homage.”
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.