Drama Feminism History

Historical Dramas Rule!

It turns out that all I am asking for from dramas and movies is simply three dimensional female characters. I honestly feel that in most cases not only female characters but also characters of colour and gay characters are portrayed stereotypically and not allowed to develop. One day my Korea-crazy friend sent me a link saying ‘since you like strong women, I am sure you will enjoy this drama’. I have started watching the drama she linked to, Queen Seon Duk and to say I am merely enjoying it would be a serious understatement. Having three dimensional ‘strong’ female characters was good enough and yet, that show is sageuk, a historical drama. Historical anythings carry so many advantages mostly because they are important learning tools. I cannot possibly discriminate when it comes to powerful women in history. I am beginning to believe that every single country, ethnic group, culture and religion has its own ‘Queen Amina’ story and though it saddens me that most people seem to readily know all powerful men in history as opposed to powerful women, I am beginning to have hope.

Lee Yo Won as Queen Seon Duk

The drama, Queen Seon Duk is about the first female ruler in Korean history, the Queen of Silla (one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea) in the 7th century. They say that Queen Seon Duk possessed extraordinary charm and wit, however with the episodes I have watched so far I have not been able to see this. The truth is Duk Man (the future queen) annoys the hell out of me, the only time I liked her was during the war scenes when her compassion and spunky attitude helped save many lives.

Ko Hyun Jung as Lady Mi Shil

The person that moves this drama and who no one can help but admire is the woman who is supposed to be the villain, Lady Mi Shil. Though she is the ‘villain’, I am yet to see a part of her that is evil and I am on her side. Mi Shil is just a woman who wants the throne, she has a lot of power and before Duk Man becomes the Queen, has even more power than the King himself. Mi Shil had enough power to expel King Jinji from the throne and this was after she abandoned the son she had with him for not been useful to her by the way.

The only thing standing between her and the throne is her blood, as in, she was only a noble and could not claim the throne. In the drama, Mi Shil is regarded as a demi-god, she pulls so many strings, she is always cold, calculating and conniving. Really, how could I not love such a character? It also does not help that when she is introduced in the first episode, she is dressed in armor and wielding a sword expertly.

Yes! That is blood on her face! One of her plans went wrong and in her anger, she slaughtered 3 soldiers with their own sword!

Though the drama is based on true historical facts of course certain parts were tweaked, after all it is a televised drama. While certain parts of the drama annoy me including dialogue and blaming Duk Man’s horrible command of a sword on her being female (yeah right, tell that to Hua Mulan and the Trung sisters), I am enjoying it a lot. And since I am on the ‘villains’ side I just know I am going to be more frustrated in the future.

I also liked that few episodes of the drama was set in Western China as part of the Silk Trade Route. Also a few episodes showed 7th century international relations. Those scenes really brought to light the fact that diverse people have been communicating for centuries. In fact, the world was probably more ‘colorblind’ then! The multicultural aspect was essentially due to trade, in the scenes set in Western China there were Romans, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, one black guy and I am pretty sure at one point ancient Egyptian was mentioned.

In later episodes, several foreign merchants were welcomed into the Silla imperial court for trade and there were several lords saying that everyone had to be on their best behaviour to show the foreigners how wonderful their kingdom was. *Sigh* I love this drama for introducing me to Korean history through a female queen. *Double sigh* I wish there was an African equivalent to this. Obviously, there were several African queens in history, several historical trading points where different cultures met, what I am saying is I wish I could watch a big budget African drama set in the 7th century too.

So, I had to include this image because it links back to my post on gay love in history. No I am not saying that the Hwarang (an elite group of male youth that served as educational and later military institutions) had institutionalized homosexuality a la the samurai (not that I will be surprised if they did). It is noteworthy however that like the samurai, they painted their faces (i.e. wore makeup) to symbolise that they were willing to die for a particular cause. The reasoning behind this is once again like the samurai they wanted to die beautifully, to have beautiful faces when they died. Cool, huh?

16 Comments

  1. I actually think many things went wrong with the rise of the romans and later the renaissance and Queen Victoria. I've always found some roles of Asian women in drama very intriguing. Now they're more docile but mulan (my alter ego BTW) and other characters tell a different story.Informative write-up as usual/

  2. could you please elaborate Myne? like what exactly went wrong with the Romans, the Renaissance and Queen Victoria. i think i have an idea but i want to be sure. generally there are good roles depending on several factors. i have actually noticed that most 'feminist' dramas tend to be Korean. not only historicals but also a few modern ones. apparently the stereotype is Korean women are assertive and aggressive far from the 'delicate flower' stereotype of Asian women. that is what i've heard though and i am not sure to be honest. omg Mulan your alter ego? that's cool ^_^and another thing after actually reading more about badass Asian women in history the docile thing just gets thrown out the window. but then again i guess patriarchy is to blame.

  3. for a moment i didn't know 'Jewel in the Palace'! i know it as 'Dae Jang Geum' (even though i can't pronounce that lol). that drama is actually thought of as being responsible for starting the 'Korean wave'. it was the first K drama that performed so well overseas. i'm yet to watch it though it's on my 'to watch' list.thanks for the link gazelle! talk about interesting.

  4. see, luckily for us there are a number of african filmmakers who are doing good stuff that might actually make a big budget movie about an african queen. till then, it may be easier to do a TV series if you can find someone to fund it.

  5. Happened upon your blog after searching for images of Lou Jing-heard her story last week on NPR. And what do I see? A write- up of the very show I watched earlier this evening and got hooked on! I passed this one up a couple of times in favor of those modern ones-Beethoven Virus, Phoenix, Lure of Wife, etc., now I see what I've been missing. Thanks for the background! Now I'm a fan of yours, as well…

  6. mellowyel, Queen Seon Duk is televised. it is not a movie. i won't mind watching a TV series. and i do watch the rare historical African TV series but they are never ever big budget. all they do is depict village life as if that has always been the norm. i want to see Oba's palaces, women with elaborate hairstyles, hoards of wealth (in those days it was slaves and horses i believe) and overflowing gold.egtrigg, welcome! so you are one of those who reached here through Lou Jing (^_^). you know, i don't know any of the dramas you listed! i'm off to d-addicts. i actually prefer historical anything. i just did not know Korea had such a rich history and i'm a bit ashamed that i didn't know to be honest. thank you so much! you should totally not give up on this drama though i've heard that things get downhill after episode 50.

  7. You know what I thought looking at her pictures?I thought to myself, if someone had said this picture was of an African Queen (race and style of clothing apart), everyone would have been up in arms screaming Impossible! How Can? Beans!? etc.People subconsciously think that Africans don't deserve luxury, that Africans can't be in positions of luxury, that Africans can't feel entitled, that Africans can't be wealthy snobs that look down on everyone else.In everyone's eyes, Africans have always been a mentally slow child-race that should be grateful for scraps because, you know, everyone else is like so much fucking better than us.Oh no, I promise you if anyone was going to make a historical drama about an African queen, no matter how far back in the past it is set, no matter how obvious it is that empires rise and fall and rise again and landscapes and peoples and policies change and a nation that was great yesterday could fall into dust tomorrow and arise again next week. Nooooooo, in spite of that, if anyone makes a film about an African queen and she looks too pretty, or she is too wealthy, or shock and horror, she even sleeps on a bed kukuma and not the hard rocky floor, then as far as people are concerned, it's unrealistic and completely unbelievable because you know, Africans have groveled in the dirt FOR ALL TIME.Yeah, I still don't know why I even believe that Communist China had Emperors at any point in time. Because you know, the PRESENT determines the PAST absolutely and that's fucking final.

  8. Oops!! I forgot to add, if said African queen lives in a big, bright, well-ventilated looking palace then it is fucking unbelievable because EVERYONE knows that it was personally ordained by God and every spirit in this world and the next one that Africans must only live in crumbling, windowless, decrepit little hovels made out of sticks and cow dung. Just letting you know so you can scream in disbelief if you ever encounter an African with enough money to buy a toothpick.

  9. ok @eccentricyoruba – you've convinced me! I'm checking out this show! I have credentials for viikii.com!

  10. @puregoldlady, you better watch it or else…you'll be missing out on a lot. vikii is good but i watch my dramas on aznv.tv. that website requires invitation so if you like, i can send one to you. will need your email though. my friend claims that vikii loads faster for her but i don't know about that.

  11. @eccentricyouruba,ok! I will…now I have 2 people to answer to. :-)sent you my email.merci beaucoup!

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