White privilege, racism, sexism. Sandra Oh brilliantly portrays the role of a first female and colored chair of a struggling English department
Professor Ji-Yoon Kim breaks the glass single. She is the first woman to ever lead Pembroke University’s English Department. But she soon will discover the weight of running an old institution past its heydays.
Geek Rate: Sky god Worthy (5 out of 5 stars). I feel like what Professor Bill Dobson (played by Jay Duplass) says in the final episode sums up the experience of watching “The Chair”: it’s like having an “ongoing conversation.” You learn something new, even if you’re already aware of it, and in the process, you feel transformed by it.
In the first scene Sandra Oh as Professor Ji-Yoon Kim struts along the old corridors of Pembroke University and straight off to her new office as chair of the English department. The focus here is the dying department with its low student enrollment numbers and its aging professors (I mean, they are really, really old). Oh as Professor Kim navigates the toxic world of white privilege inside a university.
“The Chair” packed its six episodes several issues academics know so well: the resistance of the old guard to change and innovation, as well as, the racism and sexism deeply rooted within the school system. There’s a tenured old/white/male professor who shows his disdain towards a young/black/female professor just because she has a jam-packed class (due to her dope teaching style). The old white man, on the other hand, is struggling to have students enroll in his boring class. Also, included is a white dean with all his usual privileged dogmas. Throw in a Nazi salute and you have a chaotic campus in your hand.
To complicate stuff, Kim is nearing 50 years old and is single with an adopted Mexican child. Oh as the main lead allows the series to focus on another rather overlooked issue of a working woman. “The Chair” is refreshing not only for showcasing Asian culture but for highlighting the cultural pressures and expectations that weigh against a woman of color.
“To be an English teacher you have to fall in love with stories, with literature. And what you are doing when you do that is you’re always trying to see things from someone’s point of view.”
Although the theme is about English professors and their subjects, what I appreciate about the series is that it veered away from being too deep. Yes, it casually spurts poetic lines from English poets every now and then. But it will not alienate those audiences who are disinterested in this kind of subject.
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