Since its release on September 17, Netflix’s Squid Game has become a global phenomenon. In fact, the South Korean drama is now the streaming platform’s most popular series in history as it reached 111 million views worldwide in under four weeks – beating the likes of period drama Bridgerton, which amassed 82 million households watching the series in its first month. That’s a whopping 29 million more viewers having tuned into the dystopian show!

The popularity of Squid Game has transferred to popular culture with the likes of Dalgona candy going viral on TikTok, the popular Instagram account @dudewithsign holding up cardboard with the now iconic circle, triangle and square symbols, and the Squid Game costume being top of the list for Halloween. Vans even reported a staggering 7,800% spike in sales for its white slip-on shoes since the series premiered.

The cultural impact of Squid Game

On a deeper level, Squid Game is opening up South Korean culture to the world beyond the likes of K-pop, K-dramas and Korean BBQ.

  • Language learning app Duolingo reports that in the UK, there has been a 76% increase in new users signing up to learn Korean in the two weeks following Squid Game’s  launch.

  • Searches for “ddakji” on Google rose over nine-fold between September 17 and October 4 – reaching its peak on September 28. “Red Light Green Light” on the other hand has hit its peak popularity via Google search on October 19.

Parasite’s director Bong Joon-ho once famously said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. He’s not wrong, as proven by the sheer success of Squid Game. 

However, the dubbing and subtitles themselves have been a hot topic as Korean-speaking viewers have criticised translations where the original meaning is often lost. This debate itself is an example of east meets west and cultural differences. 

But what does this mean for the wider Asian community?

What this means for Asian culture

It’s evident Squid Game is a big success globally across generations, as seen by the effect the series is having outside of Netflix. There has been plenty of content created, from memes to recipes, with social media platforms such as TikTok becoming a key driver in this – predominantly used by Gen Z. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings is another prime example of entertainment with an Asian focus. Like Squid Game, Marvel’s movie has become a massive hit. As of the end of September, Shang-Chi is the highest-grossing movie in the COVID era in North America and sits third in the UK

The unparalleled excitement for entertainment with Asian casts needs to translate to everyday living, particularly at a time when anti-Asian hate continues to be prevalent and exacerbated by COVID-19.

In the UK alone, a study by End Violence and Racism Against East and Southeast Asian Communities revealed that hate crime attacks against east and south east Asians have increased by nearly 50% in two years. This is up from 21% in May 2020. I am actually one of these statistics having been verbally abused during the pandemic and that is far from the only experience of racism I have experienced throughout my life, despite being born in the UK and lived here my whole life. Here is where blockbusters, streaming hits and content creation come in.

When trends stemming from Asian culture spiral into western popular culture, that is a sign that people of all backgrounds and ethnicities are engaging with that trend – not just the Asian community and allies. 

For example, one’s determination to pull together a Squid Game inspired Halloween costume or making Japanese sushi at home should translate to respecting and appreciating the local culture and people, beyond what’s on the surface to not be racist. 

Stopping anti-Asian hate

Entertainment is a powerful medium that brings Asian focussed content and culture to the masses. Brands and consumers need to understand that more needs to be done than standing in solidarity or watching a film/series through a screen to support the Asian diaspora at a time when anti-Asian hate is more prevalent than ever.

The new favourite TV series or social trend just provides that door for much needed proactivity to go beyond performance activism. This could be in the form of storytelling through a brand campaign that involves Asian voices and faces, taking part in seasonal festivities alongside the Asian community to learn more about a country’s history and culture or supporting local grassroots organisations working to tackle anti-Asian hate.

Adidas engaging with Tottenham superstar Son Heung-Min (above) is a really great example of this. The brand recognises the buying power of both the Asian market and his wider fanbase. By including Son in their football campaigns, Adidas not only appeals to a wider audience but provides a footballer of Asian descent an opportunity any high level player would be involved in.

Another example is GoFundMe supporting a Stop Asian Hate initiative, designed to help the UK’s East and South East Asian community following the increased hate crimes in light of COVID-19. Driven by the likes of Hollywood stars Gemma Chan and Henry Golding, monies raised are being distributed to grassroots organisations around the UK who empower and uplift the community.

Brands and consumers just need to be open and willing to listen and learn to broaden their horizons to be more inclusive of the Asian community, every single day.

For more information and a resource guide on how to become an ally to the Asian community, visit insideWPP.