Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s comments around Squid Game and “unknown” actors show how far Hollywood needs to progress to acknowledge non-English language films and TV

Steven Spielberg has come under fire for his recent comments around “unknown people” starring in series such as Squid Game. Here’s why the internet is in uproar over the comments. 

If there’s one series that completely monopolised discourse, conversations and Netflix recommendations last September, it was Squid Game.

The popular Korean series dominated the Netflix rankings and, for many people, provided a first introduction to the gritty, addictive nature of Korean dramas.

As rumours around the second series whir, it seems the show has caught the attention of one of the world’s most well-known directors: Steven Spielberg.

The acclaimed director – who is known for smash hit movies including Jaws, E.T., Schindler’s List and, more recently, West Side Story – recently spoke at the panel for the PGA Awards Zanuck Award, where he was joined by Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos.  

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg has come under fire for his comments around Netflix's Squid Game.

According to Deadline, the director claimed that Squid Game was a game-changer for the industry and discussed the important impact of Netflix on the movie industry.

He said: “A long time ago it was domestic stars that brought the audience into movies.

“Today, it’s interesting, unknown people can star entire miniseries, can be in movies.”

Also on the panel was Being The Ricardos producer Todd Black, who commented on the positive work of “unknown” actors. He said: “What’s interesting is you can mix and match them also.

“It’s really wonderful to be able to say, ‘OK, I’m going to have a star in a smaller role. I’m going to have an unknown in the lead role.’” 

Lee Jung-jae in Squid Game
Lee Jung-jae in Squid Game.

The comments – particularly Spielberg’s – have come under fire, mainly on account of how limited the perception of film and TV outside Hollywood can be. Spielberg is an influential commentator and while his recognition of Squid Game is a great one, it also underlines a fundamental problem (and slowness) of western audiences, filmmakers and producers in recognising the impact of non-English language film and TV.

Many of the actors in Squid Game have been working in film and television for a long time but Spielberg’s comments don’t recognise that. Twitter users have been quick to underline the “bubble” of Hollywood that Spielberg’s comment demonstrates: 

The actors of Squid Game may not have been on Spielberg’s radar but actors like Lee Jung-jae (who stars as Gi-hun in the Netflix series) are seen as “veteran” by many:

Many fans were quick to underline that “unknown” is definitely not the right adjective to use when describing already well-known actors:

The comments have angered many and underlined how limited western audience’s understandings of other international actors can be:

The comments have only cemented how much of a hit Squid Game has become, with many rushing to call out Spielberg for his damaging comments. While we don’t have any new episodes of the series to binge-watch, why not find out how the anticipated second season is coming along?

Squid Game is available to stream on Netflix now.

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