Steven Spielberg Faces Backlash After Calling “Squid Game” Actors “Unknown People”

Reminder: Just because someone is unknown to you personally doesn't mean they're unknown to the entire world

Steven Spielberg poses in the press room during the 74th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton on March 12, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. Spielberg was recently called out on social media for calling the Squid Game ensemble "unknown actors."
Steven Spielberg at the 74th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards on March 12, 2022.
Getty Images

On Saturday, Steven Spielberg spoke on a Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards panel at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, and the conversation turned to streaming services like Netflix and their willingness to take a gamble on casting “unknown” actors in lead roles. The legendary director is currently facing backlash on social media for his response, however, after he mistakenly cited the popular South Korean survival drama Squid Game as a show that features “unknown people.”

“A long time ago, it was domestic stars that brought the audience into movies,” Spielberg said, according to Deadline. “Today, it’s interesting, unknown people can star entire miniseries, can be in movies.”

Squid Game comes along and changes the math entirely for all of us,” he continued, singling out Netflix’s CEO and chief content officer. “Thank you, Ted [Sarandos].”

As many on social media were quick to point out — IndieWire’s tweet about Spielberg’s comment has been quote-tweeted by more than 8,000 people so far — Squid Game features plenty of actors who were already well-established in Asia prior to starring in the show. Lead actor Lee Jung-jae is a household name in South Korea who has appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including the popular thriller The Housemaid. Park Hae-soo is another popular actor on the series who has starred in well-received Korean TV shows like Prison Playbook. They’re only “unknown” to American audiences who may be less familiar with Asian cinema.

Spielberg meant well, but it’s a good example of the way non-Western actors and filmmakers often get overlooked here in the U.S. We could all use a reminder that just because someone is unknown to us personally doesn’t mean they’re unknown to the entire world, and American pop culture is far from the only pop culture.

If anything, Spielberg’s comments present a good argument as to why we need more shows like Squid Game to help us gain a better awareness and appreciation of all the talent coming out of other parts of the world.

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