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Spider-Man’s racist comments? Global stars who got on wrong side of Korean fans

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Updated : July 17 2017

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” star Tom Holland found himself in hot water in Korea concerning a remark he made during a recent interview.

During the interview -- conducted live via Naver’s V app -- the 21-year-old expressed his surprise at the English skill of his interviewer, Eric Nam, a Korean-American singer.

Tom Holland (Yonhap)

Some Korean fans thought it was racist of the UK actor to be astonished at how a person of Asian descent could be so fluent in English.

But come on. An actor blurting racist comments in foreign lands, on a live broadcast, while promoting his own movie? It seems more likely that the incident is a simple case of an innocent remark being misunderstood.

There have been other cases of stars offending Korean fans -- whether or not it was really their fault.

Tom Holland, 2017

In the aforementioned interview, Holland asked Nam, “You speak great English, though, man. How did you learn English?”

Nam replied that he was an American (“Surprise!”), and “Spider-Man” co-star Jacob Batalon chimed in, “Then, you learned Korean ...”

What might have been a light-hearted exchange between young celebrities escalated into a controversy of racism, with some saying Holland’s bewilderment and curiosity toward “how” Nam -- who appears ethnically Korean -- came to be so fluent in English was racist on its own.

Others, however, pointed out that it is natural for Holland to expected Nam to be Korean -- as he is being interviewed in Korea by a Korean outlet and Nam’s appearance is close to locals -- and that his astonishment was literally because it is unusual for a non-native speaker to speak English so well.

Justin Bieber, 2014

The trail of one of the most loved and hated pop stars in the world has never been short on controversy, and his 2014 trip to Japan was no exception.

During his time in Tokyo, he paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors over 1,000 Japanese war criminals, among over 2.4 million others. Along with a photo of the visit, he posted a message saying, “thank you for your blessings.”

This naturally hit a nerve among fans in Korea and China, parts of which were occupied by the Japanese during before and during World War II.

One of the most notable cases of Japan’s crimes concerned “comfort women” -- women from Korea and other parts of Asia forced into wartime sexual slavery by Japan.

Bieber’s subsequent apology fueled further furor in Korea, as he said “I love you China and I love you Japan” on Twitter.

Eventually the pop star apologized again, this time to Korean fans.

“Found out that when I was in Japan I hurt my fans in Korea when visiting that shrine. That was never my intent. I love Korea. I’m sorry,” he said.

Brigett Bardot - 2001

Unlike the case of Bieber -- which appears to have been out of mere ignorance and lack of consideration for other countries’ history -- and of Holland -- likely an innocent comment taken out of context -- the case of Brigett Bardot is one that touches on many sensitive issues, from respect for cultural differences and animal rights to racism.

The French actress and superstar in the 1950s and 1960s is widely known for her advocacy for animal rights.

Her now-famous feud with Korean fans came in 2001, shortly before the 2002 FIFA Korea-Japan World Cup. During her international campaign to stop dog meat trade in Korea, she condemned its consumption as “barbaric.”

Eating dog meat is also a highly controversial issue among Koreans.

The traditionally agrarian society has for centuries considered dogs as livestock -- just like pigs and cows -- and dogs were consumed like livestock. But with the majority of Koreans today considering canines to be pets, discussion has heated on the topic of dog-eating.

Bardot’s comments, however, started an uproar because many Koreans took it as labeling the entire nation as “barbaric.”

Needless to say, eating pets is just as outrageous in Korea as it is in France, the US, or any other country. While the traditional difference between France and Korea regarding dog meat derived from whether or not dogs were considered livestock, many Koreans felt the actress oversimplified the matter as if to say the entire Korean culture is barbaric because of dog-eating.

Her heated telephone debate with respected local anchorman Son Suk-hee in November and December of the year did little to help her case and Bardot remains one of the most controversial foreign celebrities in Korea.

When Son pointed out that his acquaintances from France, the US and Germany had tasted dog meat in Korea before, Bardot reportedly fumed and said, “French, Americans and Germans would never eat dog meat,” and that it would have been only possible if they did not know the meat in question was of a dog.

Son raised suspicions that her discontent toward dog-eating in Korea may have been connected to racial bias, pointing at her insistence that French, Americans and Germans would never consciously eat dog meat.

By Yoon Min-sik (

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