By Julie Tong, AsAmNews Intern
Late night show host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel is under fire for comparing BTS to the coronavirus during an interview with actress Ashley Park.
Park is a Tony-nominated musical theater actress who gained popularity for starring as Mindy Chen in the Netflix show Emily in Paris. The show’s second season released last month.
In an interview with Kimmel posted to YouTube on January 21st, Park recalled her excitement after the producers of Emily in Paris “miraculously” attained the rights to “Dynamite,” a song by South Korean boy band BTS, for Park to perform in episode 1 of the new season. For Park, a Korean American actor who describes BTS as her favorite band, filming the scene was particularly emotional.
“If BTS were ever to see this in an alternate universe I would just want to make them as proud as they have made me as a Korean, as an artist,” Park told Kimmel.
Kimmel, however, initially appeared to be judgmental of the band. Before Park revealed she was also a fan, he commented: “You have to be careful with an ARMY because they can attack.” When Park revealed that she was also an ARMY, or a member of BTS’s fandom, Kimmel pivoted, saying, “Then you won’t get attacked. That’s good.”
Park continued telling her story of her shocked “fangirl” reaction to seeing BTS members react to her rendition of “Dynamite,” which left her hands shaking, her brain foggy, and her sinuses clogged. Later on, however, she learned her symptoms were not because of shock: she had tested positive for COVID.
“You thought it was BTS fever,” Kimmel responded. “Well, it was very dangerous, you’re lucky to come out of those alive.”
Park was unable to react to Kimmel’s comment, as the host ended the interview directly afterward. Social media users, however, overwhelmingly condemned Kimmel’s statements for anti-Asian rhetoric.
In the comment section of the interview’s Youtube video, both BTS fans and non-fans praised Park for her energy and patience, while also criticizing Kimmel’s comments. User Mrstilney wrote “Jimmy Kimmel could have kept his racism and misogyny, however – absolutely appalled at him saying the group is as dangerous as COVID, disgusting. There’s also no need to refer to their fans as “crazed” or “attacking” – would you say this about football fans Jimmy?” To many commenters, the problem was not about defending the band, but the broader environment of anti-Asian racism and rhetoric that emerged after the pandemic began. As user Marjona Rahmonova wrote, “This isn’t about BTS or ARMY; it’s about Jimmy’s belief that microaggression towards Asians is “funny” and “a joke.””
On Twitter, users were outraged when Billboard Magazine tweeted a quote from an article, which stated “According to Ashley Park, the symptoms of interacting with a BTS member are eerily similar to those of COVID-19,” misattributing Kimmel’s joke to Park herself.
As users such as Virginia Duan, @TheMandarinMama, observed, the tweet placed the onus of a racist joke on Park instead of Kimmel.
“I see BB [Billboard] mag keeps outing itself as racist – which isn’t surprising,” Duan wrote on Twitter. “To attribute Jimmy Kimmel’s anti-Asian sentiments of comparing BTS to a virus (hilarious! and also, that’s so 2020!) to KorAm Ashley Park is purposeful misrepresentation +allows BB to hide in plain sight.”
User @BlackSwan_875 demanded an apology from Billboard and Jimmy Kimmel to “Ashley Park, BTS, & Asian communities around the world.”
“The ‘joke’ was not funny and was, in fact, vile, racist trash,” the user wrote. In a follow-up tweet, they added: “And let’s be explicitly clear: trying to imply that the Asian American actress made the racially charged comments the white male show host said is ALSO racist and yes, is also completely unacceptable.”
The tweet has since been deleted, and the article language edited. Billboard, however, has yet to publicly apologize or comment on the situation.
BTS is no stranger to being compared with COVID; Kimmel’s comments are part of a trend of racist remarks linking the band with the disease due to their South Korean heritage. In 2020, per weverse magazine, Howard Stern Show writer Sal Governale stated “There’s no way those guys don’t have the coronavirus” on a radio show. According to Times of News, Governale’s statements were subsequently slammed by Stern himself, who said Governale “came off as racist.” In February 2021, Forbes reported that German radio host Matthias Matuschik compared the band to a virus that needed to be vaccinated against, prompting widespread outrage from around the world.
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