KIM Bo-yeon, Scriptwriter on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
Feb 15, 2019
- Writerby KIM Su-bin
“A unique voice, that is the most powerful thing a writer can have.”
KIM Bo-yeon is the first Asian female screenwriter to write for the 53-year-old science-fiction series Star Trek. She has been on board since the first season of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017, as an executive story editor, and wrote two episodes for the season 2, which began airing in January. The writer, who majored in archaeology, started her career by entering the CBS Mentoring Program in 2014. She is about to make another leap, as she has recently been chosen to write a spinoff series to Star Trek: Discovery, starring Michelle YEOH.
You have spent your childhood and adolescence in five different countries. How has this experience influenced you to become a writer and create your own series?
Growing up in five different countries was a double-edged sword: while it was a rare, privileged experience that not every child is given, it was not easy moving every three years to a different country. I always felt like an outsider, even when I returned to Korea. For the longest time, I thought my unique childhood was my weakness. I was frustrated that I was not fluent in English or Korean. But now, I understand that being trilingual and multicultural are my greatest strengths as a person and as a writer. It gave me a unique voice as a writer, and that is the most powerful thing a writer can have.
After studying archeology in Bryn Mawr College, you took a writing class at UCLA. Then, after working as a translator for the National Drama Company of Korea, you went back to UCLA to attend graduate school and study writing again. Could you tell me what motivated you to make these decisions?
After graduating from college, I returned to Korea because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that academia wasn’t for me, even though I enjoyed anthropology and archaeology. So instead I focused on technical writing, teaching English and working as a freelance translator for many years. It wasn’t until I started working at the National Theater of Korea where the work of translating Korean traditional opera from Korean to English became a surprisingly creative effort. I think translating stories that were so deeply embedded in the Korean culture (like <Filial Daughter Shim Cheong>), stories that were so different from what I normally write, sparked something in me, and really inspired me to start writing on my own. Also, during my confused days, I was watching every film and television shows I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with American TV. Looking back, I realize how important this period of time was. If I hadn’t wandered, I wouldn’t have found my way. I actually don’t see studying anthropology or translating as a turning point. I believe they were all leading me on the same path, to becoming a writer.
I heard that you were already a big fan of Star Trek, so what was your feeling when you learned that you were going to work on Star Trek: Discovery?
I actually didn’t grow up watching Star Trek – they weren’t readily available in the countries I grew up in. But I’m a life-long fan of science fiction and fantasy, and I was aware that Star Trek was one of the great pillars of science fiction. I was an adult when I first watched Star Trek, and I’m glad I was, because I think I had a greater appreciation of the stories. To be a writer for Star Trek, and to be the first Asian female writer for the franchise, is really an honor and a dream come true. Sci-fi television is still dominated by white male writers. So I’m very happy to get the chance to prove that female and Asian writers can write great science fiction, too.
You are helming a new Star Trek series starring Michelle YEOH. What message would you like to give with this new series?
While I can’t tell you much about the spinoff itself, what I can say is that it will be the first Star Trek show created by Asian (female) writers, with an Asian female as its lead. It’s going to be very special. It’s also going to be very different, because our main character is not going to be a traditional Starfleet captain or an officer. I want to break new grounds, showing the audience a whole new side to Star Trek, while still upholding Star Trek’s well-defined values. We are in very early stages of development, but I’m already very excited by what we have come up with.
Last year, diversity was a big topic in the U.S. entertainment industry, with discussions about gender salary gap, the #MeToo movement and the ‘Asian August’. Do you think this is the sign of a change in Hollywood that will allow for more diversity?
I think so. Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, especially not in Hollywood. But what’s important is that we (as women and/or as diverse creators) are not afraid to speak up about these issues anymore, and that we are talking about them as an industry right now.
What is you dream as a writer? Can you tell me about your plans for the future?
Right now I’m focused on bringing the Star Trek spinoff show to life. And that is already a dream come true. What comes next, I have no idea, but I have faith that the right project will come along and it will be the right time to do it.