K-dramas' impact on representing Down syndrome on-screen and changing perspectives!

Aishwarya Srinivasan
Updated On
New Update
Down Syndrome Day

K-dramas were way ahead of their time when it came to inclusive storytelling and showing empathy towards people with Down syndrome. Here’s how the narrative was based around characters with disability and how it helped weave the story together!

While we live in a world where more and more important conversations about various things are actively happening, down syndrome is still not something many people are fully well versed with or talk about largely on social media. This is why, unfortunately, people born with Down syndrome are often discriminated against by society due to a lack of awareness or even lack of curiosity to find out what it is about. They are sometimes even shunned from social gatherings, and even the family members are often given unsolicited advice about their future. 

The content we watch plays a huge impact in influencing the way we think or behave a plethora of times. Filmmakers today are being pulled up and asked to be answerable for what they show on-screen, as the younger generation is way more invested in fictional characters now than ever before. But this proves to be advantageous at times when, through the art of storytelling, you educate the audience about various autism and disabilities. K-dramas have been solid proof of this for a decade now. In an era where people with Down syndrome were never even represented on-screen, K-dramas either made an entire story surrounding their lives or dedicated an episode authentically showing what the life of someone with Down syndrome really is like. 

Also Read: POV: How I understood the art of translation through K-dramas!

Our Blues, which was one of the most popular K-dramas of 2022, was a slice-of-life drama where each character got an episode of their own. In one such episode about Lee Young-Ok (Han Ji-Min), a guilt-ridden woman tries to hide from the world that she actually has a twin sister, Young-Hee (Eun-Hye), who has Down syndrome. She does not want to tamper with the ‘perfect’ life image that she has built in front of her social circles. But more than anyone, she didn’t want her boyfriend to know it. She thought that just like all the other men she had dated, he would also consider her sister a burden and leave her. So, instead, she puts her sister in an orphanage where she gets all the care she needs. But Young-Hee can’t live apart from her sister; she loves her too much, and she escapes and comes back to her. When Lee Young-Ok’s boyfriend met her for the first time, it was awkward for him, but it was because he had never met someone like her. But much to her preconceived notions, he actually proves her wrong by spending the next few days studying what it really means and how you actually behave around someone who has Down syndrome. Both her boyfriend and sister had one thing in common, and that was their love for Lee Young-Ok; they bonded on that. He made an effort to be friends with her, and he was all hands on deck to share responsibility with his girlfriend if they do eventually get married as well. 

our blues

A prime-time Korean drama showing this speaks volumes because it shows the arc of someone who people often label as being ‘weird’ or ‘dimwitted’. They are quite the opposite of that and are much more capable of adjusting to society or being friends with people like you and me would. Young-Ok’s sister is also well-liked and embraced by the people of her town, and this comes to her as a surprise. It portrays this world that all of us ideally should be living in. That is exactly how someone with the syndrome should be treated, and the episode actually made headlines talking about its making and also the fact that they actually cast someone with Down syndrome instead of using prosthetics on an actor. 

My Love My Family, which was released back in 2011, had a character named Lee Kang-Sang played by actor Jung Joon. He added so much depth to the storyline by portraying what it's like to live with someone with down syndrome in a family setting. The challenges they face, the situations that arise while taking care of someone with Down syndrome, and how they tackle it is eye-opening as a viewer who might not know much about it. How they require extra care and therapy to develop language, social and motor skills. 

my love

Another example is ‘What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim’. Kim Mi-So who is the lead character in the drama has an elder sister, Kim Ji-Ah who has down syndrome. While she is not a central part of the story, she does play an important role at a pivotal point in the drama and just like Our Blues, this drama as well highlights how important family support and acceptance is for the differently abled.

Overall, K-dramas, more than anything we’ve seen in mainstream content, have portrayed Down syndrome with nuance, sensitivity, and depth. Instead of stereotyping them to what people perceive them to be, these shows go beyond that and make it such an important part of the story that you cannot help but get attached to the characters. One can hope that more such respectful depictions of the syndrome are portrayed and more mainstream audiences are pulled into watching it, be it Bollywood or Western content that is widely popular. And here’s hoping that through such stories, the societal attitude towards Down syndrome changes over the years.

For more binge-centric content and reviews, follow us on @socialketchupbinge.

K-Dramas Jung Eun-Hye our blues young hee- our blues han ji-min