The new K-Drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo is quickly becoming this season’s hit series. Still, with praise comes criticism.
The first K-Drama ever from the little-known network ENA about an attorney on the autism spectrum has stolen the hearts of many viewers. Ratings shot up after its first week due to word-of-mouth. Now, according to the data index, Good Data, it is currently the most talked-about show in Korea!
— Atty Woo brain rot 🐳 (@kdramatreats) July 12, 2022
It’s currently running with new episodes every Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 pm KST. International viewers can watch it on Netflix in certain regions.
If you haven’t seen any episodes, it stars Park Eun Bin as the titular character. We watch her as she begins her new job as an attorney.
About an autistic 27-year-old lawyer. Due to her high IQ of 164, impressive memory, and creative thought process, the brilliant Woo Young Woo graduated at the top of her class from a prestigious law school.
— IMDb’s plot description
Although it is only near the beginning, the K-Drama has been met with much praise from viewers. The writing, cinematography, and actors’ chemistry are all outstanding.
If you check out online reviews, too, you will find mostly positive. Most viewers are impressed by the representation so far. It not only features a main character on the autism spectrum but even LGBTQIA+.
Yet, there are a lot of mixed feelings regarding the portrayal of Autism in the K-Drama, primarily from viewers on the autism spectrum themselves.
In the past few years, there has been increasingly more representation for persons on the autism spectrum in media both internationally and in South Korea. Some good, some bad.
The medical show, The Good Doctor, focused on a young autistic savant surgeon. A U.S. series was based on a K-Drama of the same name.
The 2020 K-Drama It’s Okay to Not Be Okay also featured a character with autism. The series was a fan favorite. Although the actor Oh Jung Se is not on the autism spectrum, he showed great care for his role and many showed their appreciation.
Also someone who has an older brother with autism contacted him since her brother wanted to meet and comfort Sangtae after warching drama. Jungse met him and spent a day at a theme park together in Sangtae persona. He's very considerate and thoughful.. Amazing actor and person!
— (slow)아미살롱 ᴀʀᴍʏ sᴀʟᴏɴ (@BTSARMY_Salon) August 10, 2020
And just this year, we have seen the U.S. version of the reality dating show Love on the Spectrum go viral as netizens shared clips and reactions. Yet, some couldn’t help but notice how the series portrayed the cast.
Seven young adults on the autism spectrum dive headfirst into the dating pool, exploring the unpredictable world of love and relationships.
— Google’s plot description for Love on the Spectrum
#LoveOnTheSpectrum #ActuallyAutistic #AutisticAdult #AutisticLove #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs #MoreThanOneInARoom #Gaslit #Masking #AutisticMasking #Aspie #RepresentationMatters #EquitableAccess #EquitableRepresentation #ADHD #Autism #Aspergers #ASD #PTSD #Netflix #NetflixRecommendation #LOTS #ableism #DoBetter #Spectrum #Diversity #DiversityAndInclusion #Neurodiversity #Neurodivergent #Disability #disabled #DisabilityInclusion #MadPride #SPD #SensoryProcessing #WeDeserveLove #Therapy #CPTSD
Some said that Love on the Spectrum infantilized those on the autism spectrum. According to Wikipedia, “Infantilization is the prolonged treatment of one who has a mental capacity greater than that of a child as though they are a child.”
Some netizens have the same concerns for Extraordinary Attorney Woo.
A TikTok recently went viral with 110.1K views at the time of writing in which a content creator with autism (@goodbyeapathy) duetted a fan’s edit of Park Eun Bin as Attorney Woo. The original video had also captioned it, “She’s so cute.” They warned against the portrayal shown and fans’ edits.
#stitch with @intr8vert And please be MINDFUL when you post about shows like this if you have no idea what it’s like for autistic people & the discrimination + struggles we face in society. This isn’t it. It really isn’t the representation we want. #autism #autistic #autistiktok #autisticadult #neurodivergent #neurodiverse #stereotypes #koreandrama #representation #dobetter
The creator explained that Extraordinary Attorney Woo is just another misrepresentation for them. Instead, it just continues to enforce hurtful stereotypes.
I absolutely am tired of portrayals of autistic people in especially Korean media like this. It teaches everyone that this is what autistic people look like and act like, and we do not all act this way.
Granted people who are outwardly more so that fit into the stereotype still get discriminated against, but there’s also people like me who, I can’t even count how many times when I’ve disclosed I’m autistic people have told me, ‘Oh, but you don’t look Autistic’ or ‘you don’t act autistic’ or ‘I could have never told that you were autistic.’ I am, though. I have very clearly autistic traits that just don’t fit into that stereotype, and it makes it so much harder for me in society, in work, when this is the portrayal that people go with…
They continued to describe how characters with autism are either portrayed as geniuses or innocent, cute forever types. In this case, one could say that Attorney Woo is portrayed as both, and they feel it is just laziness on the writers’ parts as they either are not autistic and/or have not done proper research.
I think it’s high time that we move past these types of portrayals of infantilism of this like very obvious awkwardness.
Yet, other content creators with autism feel the opposite way. User @rhia_is_here has been watching Extraordinary Attorney Woo and so far feels that it is “one of the best portrayals of autism … seen in K-Dramas.” They personally have been able to relate to the main character.
It’s just sort of quite personally relatable for me. Obviously, everyone with autism is different. …But, personally, I relate to Young Woo a lot.
They also acknowledged the criticisms of the K-Drama, such as how a non-autistic actor portrays the character. Yet, there were still more positives than negatives.
In fact, Korean viewers have actually reported that Extraordinary Attorney Woo may be helping them. Some are realizing they may fall on the autism spectrum after seeing similar behaviors to their own portrayed.
Post: I feel the same way. This isn’t because Woo Young Woo is “trending” or anything. I used to think everyone has the same issues that I do. But the show is teaching people that autism has a spectrum. Until now, people were most familiar with autism on the severe end of the spectrum. But now, they’re like, “Oh, there is a spectrum to autism” and “Some people on the spectrum aren’t as severely affected by autism,” and whatnot. And eventually, it kind of helps people understand themselves, like, “Hey wait, I do that too!” It’s all new information. Now, with a bit more insight, I can see why I act a certain way. I thought, at first, because I was anti-social and had trouble focusing, that I might be on the spectrum but I found out that in my case, I had ADHD. So I’ve been taking medication. It’s similar to why people with Asperger’s syndrome get diagnosed so late.
Reply: I think you’re right
And while the main character is certainly portrayed with writers’ go-to traits for autistic characters, the show has already touched on the critical topic that Autism is a spectrum and is different in everyone.
In Episode 3, Attorney Woo was recruited on a case in which a client also is on the autism spectrum. She was concerned initially because she recognized that they were quite different and may even struggle to communicate. Still, her boss knew that she was best suited since he could trust that she would treat him respectfully, unlike others.
In the third episode, which aired on July 6, the K-Drama really delved deep and examined existing social prejudices towards those with disabilities. It especially showed how South Korea treats those with autism, revealing still existing prejudices, hypocrisy, and more.
The series is at least creating a much-need dialogue right now. And hopefully, it will spark true empathy.
Since a lot of people watching #ExtraordinaryAttorneyWoo so here are some facts about autism
1. Being autistic doesn’t mean you have a disease/illness. It means your brain works in a different way from other people. It's something you're born with/appears when you’re very young. pic.twitter.com/4eZC6p1P1k
— ell ⁺⁺⁺ 🐳 (@crinolineruffle) July 6, 2022
3. Autistic people may act in a different way to other people. They may find it hard to communicate & interact with other people, find it hard to understand how other people think/feel, do/think the same things over and over & find things like loud noises stressful/uncomfortable.
— ell ⁺⁺⁺ 🐳 (@crinolineruffle) July 6, 2022
So, while Extraordinary Attorney Woo may not be perfect, many can agree that the K-Drama crew has good intentions, especially considering that South Korea still is not very progressive in topics related to disabilities and mental health.