Even the Rivers
Last month, the producers of a film about Korean multiethnic youth launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to finance their project’s final stages. Director Cindy Lou Howe says that although the funding was slow to trickle in at first, the film “Even the Rivers” has now picked up almost all of the $5,920 needed to see it finished and released.
The documentary centers on Korea’s current multiethnic population, a demographic that’s seen their presence in local schools increase sixfold since 2006. This huge growth has found itself met with bullying, discrimination and a lack of support toward multiethnic students. The result is an environment where 72 percent of multiethnic students in Seoul drop out before they graduate.
Groove Korea spoke with Cindy Lou Howe to find out more about this issue and why she is making this film.
Groove Korea: Why is it important that this film is made?
Cindy Lou Howe: One thing that many people around the world know about South Korea is that the country highly values education. As a result, 97 percent of Koreans between the ages of 25 and 34 have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. And yet, 72 percent of multiethnic Korean students in Seoul are dropping out! What kind of future can they expect in Korea without an education?
There have been many articles written about Korea's demographic changes and growing multicultural reality. We wanted to focus specifically on the multiethnic and multicultural youth in Korea, too many of whom are falling through the cracks.
How would a discriminated underclass of young, multicultural Koreans lose out if nothing is done about the education prejudice?
What's really tragic is that we are seeing something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many multiethnic and multicultural young people in Korea are being bullied, discriminated against or are otherwise not receiving the support they need to succeed. As a result, many are dropping out of school, which dramatically reduces their job prospects and the likelihood that they'll be perceived as "successes" by wider society.
In response, they reinforce stereotypes about multicultural Koreans as being burdens on society, which causes animosity and more bullying and discrimination ... and the cycle continues. No society with a critical mass of disaffected, disconnected young people can reach its potential.
What do you hope this film will achieve, on a personal, political and/or social level?
Our goal is that “Even the Rivers” will raise awareness about multiculturalism in South Korea's schools and in broader Korean society. Hopefully, those involved with making education policy decisions will listen to the stakeholders featured in this film, like parents, teachers, community activists and multiethnic youth themselves.
How did you choose the title of the film?
There's an old Korean proverb that says, "In 10 years, even the rivers and mountains change" (십년이면 강산도 변한다). It's a reference to the inevitability of change, which is something that I think Koreans and those of us who have lived in Korea can especially relate to.
You said, "Ultimately, I hope the film inspires people to assist Korea in negotiating this complex and difficult path in multiculturalism." Do you have any specific people or countries in mind?
There are so many examples of countries that have confronted multiculturalism in the past, and most of those approaches initially didn't work! Whether it's "separate but equal" segregation laws in the U.S., apartheid in South Africa or any number of more recent examples, our hope and expectation, really, is that South Korea will reach out to hear these "lessons learned" and will understand that demeaning or demonizing the "other" in society isn't consistent with how Korea sees itself as a world leader in the 21st century. Ultimately, wouldn't it be wonderful if South Korea could create a new model for emerging multicultural societies?
Any last thoughts?
I think Grove Korea's readership is an especially apt audience for the film. Whether foreigners living in Korea, naturalized Koreans or Koreans who speak English, I imagine that almost everyone can relate to how many Koreans respond to anyone who is different. Usually — at least in my experience — that response is curiosity or generosity; however, at other times it's been suspicion or hostility.
Koreans have a very strong sense of national and cultural identity. With this film, we hope to help Korean society to maintain its cohesiveness, but simply expand its definition of who belongs.