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‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’: A call for diversity and equality

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is a Korean legal drama focusing on Woo Young-woo, an autistic law school grad beginning her career as an attorney at Hanbada, one of the most respected law firms in Seoul. Almost every episode focuses on investigating a different court case. In addition to the court drama, the show has a strong focus on emotional relationships between family and friends. The show’s greatest feat is the awareness it has raised for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in South Korea.

According to Son Da-Eun, the director of Autism Partnership Korea, the stigma surrounding disabilities like autism has created a negative environment for the disabled in South Korea. There is an association between disability and shame.

“You rarely have interactions with persons with autism on a daily basis. Historically, people with autism are kept home, hidden away from the world,” said Ms. Son

Yoo In-sik, the director of “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” said he hoped the show would foster discussion of diversity and help create a more equal society.

The show’s portrayal of ableism challenges viewers to counteract it in their daily lives. Woo faces discrimination from society — though she achieves a near perfect score from the bar exam and graduates summa cum laude from Seoul National University, one of the top schools in South Korea, she is rejected from almost every law firm. Even while she works at Hanbada, she faces repeated harassment and bullying from certain lawyers who continuously try to get her either severely reprimanded or fired. The show acknowledges that, though she is an incredible lawyer and proves time and time again she is excellent at her job, she is being discriminated against solely because she is autistic. Attorneys who initially patronize her and believe she needs their help end up recognizing that she is the “stronger” lawyer — she is excellent at what she does without needing their help.  

The show does a good job of providing general information on ASD and dismantling part of the stigma that surrounds it. For example, it drives home the point that autism is a spectrum disorder and presents differently in different people, combating the misconception that all autistic people have a common set of traits.

However, critics are concerned that its portrayal of Woo, who has savant syndrome, does not represent most autistic people. Savant syndrome is a rare condition present in about one in ten people with autism that leads to extraordinary abilities and talents. Woo can memorize and scrutinize enormous amounts of information as a result. There is concern that this will lead some viewers to place unrealistic expectations upon all autistic people. 

As serious as the show’s criticisms of ableist society are, it also has many lighthearted moments. The legal drama is entertaining and tends to pull at viewers’ heartstrings. In many cases, the viewer is led to sympathize with Woo’s client. Yet there are also cases that challenge Woo’s concept of what it means to be a lawyer, morally and ethically, and offer insight into some aspects of her personal life. The development of her relationships with her coworkers is a strong point for the show.

However, in some episodes, the drama of the court cases pales in comparison to other aspects of the show, like her relationships. This leads to pacing issues, as some episodes drag on for quite a bit before addressing the more pressing drama.

This show excels at keeping viewers emotionally invested in its legal and interpersonal drama. It also provides insight into ASD and challenges viewers to examine instances of ableism they’ve witnessed through its portrayal of ableist characters.

Title: “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”

Director: Yoo In-sik

Starring: Park Eun-bin, Kang Tae-oh

Streaming: Netflix

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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