ISSN : 0023-3900
The popular 2020 Korean Drama Itaewon Class features the Guinean-Korean character Kim Toni. It is the first major international K-Drama series to include among its main characters a member of what Hyein Amber Kim describes as the “Collective Dark”; that is, a person on the bottom level of Kim’s three-tiered description of Korean racial hierarchy. Through an examination of Toni and of the presentation of foreigners in Itaewon Class, this article explores how the drama presents notions of Koreanness and foreignness. The show attempts to promote a more open definition of Koreanness by suggesting that people who are not racially Korean should be accepted as Korean provided they have Korean heritage. However, while it endorses a wider understanding of Koreanness, it nonetheless presents an insular attitude towards foreigners and foreignness, demonstrating little understanding of cultural difference outside of Korea and essentializing all foreigners as basically the same and culturally American. Even the foreign aspects of Toni, despite his ostensible identity as a Guinean-Korean, are conceived of as American. Fundamentally, Itaewon Class is a Korea-centric drama which displays little understanding or acceptance of outsiders.