The New Current: VIEWED 2021
CLICKBAIT: Abraham Lim / Ben Park
With only 8 Episode Netflix’s latest show CLICKBAIT has already become one of the streaming servers most popular binge-able shows, and justly so. For me watching how Abraham Lim brought to life a fully rounded, complex, and inspiring character to life that has really offered me hope for how minority characters, particularly Asian-American characters will be written in the future.
I had to watch Episode 5 of Netflix’s CLICKBAIT twice and was going to watch it a third time before starting this piece but decided against it as I’d never be able to finish writing it. When we ask ourselves why representation means such and why representation in the Film/TV/Theatre is important moving forward I will point to Abraham Lim and his performance as Ben Park in CLICKBAIT.
By the time I had finished Episode 5: The Reporter it had gone past 3 am but I was in full binge-watching mode and there was no turning back. Sleepy, yes, but desperate to know what happens and I was almost willing to skip to the end and spoil it for myself, this is something I am afraid to admit I have done before. But by the time Episode 4 finished I was gripped and was willing to hold off ruining it so I made an espresso and got comfortable.
Ben Park is a gay Asian-American journalist who isn’t just good at his job he is brilliant at it. The struggle for Ben is the isolation he feels at work, sitting a his desk with headphones on listing to heavy base music and it is with this scene we get to understand Ben a little better. He has to fight and fight and fight to get a place at the table even though we, the humble viewer, know that he is actually cracking the case wide open.
Throughout the series we see a build up of Ben’s work and commitment to his job, for him this is really his calling. He is always in the right place and is able to sense a story before a story is even presented itself. This is brilliantly illustrated when Emma Beesly, Jessica Collins, arrives at the Brewer house and he passes her his card. The entire street is packed with reporters, some a lot more seasoned than Ben, yet he’s the one who notices Emma and is willing to bide his time.
Originally I didn’t root for Ben because he had this slimy veneer that all tabloid journalist have which is just utter icky but after he passes Emma his card, without forcing or trying too hard to get her to talk, we see something different. I began to appreciate that he isn’t the cold slimy story chasing journalist I may have assumed but rather a very good, patient and hardworking investigative journalist. Even though he “broke the story” he knows all too well that for him at least this isn’t enough for his boss Dakota King, Ash Ricardo.
Ben never comes across as aggressive as some of his colleagues and I guess this is due to the fact that he is a good at his job yet how King talks to him left a bitter taste in my mouth. King’s dismissiveness, tone and easy at binning Ben’s work is manifested brilliantly when Sophie Brewer, Betty Gabriel, comes to the newsroom to complain about Ben and to demand that they kill the interview with Emma. Walking back to her office with both Ben and Jeannine, Kate Lister, the elation is short-lived as Dakota tells Ben that he’s not doing the interview but that Jeannine is.
It is this scene that heartbreaking as we get to see Ben’s pain, this pain that he goes through on a daily basis. His work good enough but not good enough. Lim conveys this hurt, humiliation and fear within such genuineness it left me breathless and with so much sympathy and respect for the Ben Park.
Ben, like many minorities in creative fields, has to run two races and never gets the chance to relax or to catch his breath. He has to prove himself daily and has to jump through more hoops than his colleagues and most of all he has to give up and sacrifice a lot more than Jeannine will ever be ask to.
This wealth of lived experience for Ben can only come from Lim’s own lived experiences and this offers such a weight to the complexities of this character and allows the audience to really connect to Ben. As angry as he should be Ben never explode but rather he has to do what he has always done and that is to take a deep breath and let to pass over him.
The audience know the way Ben handles the interview is messed up but we also know that he has all the pieces of the puzzle but in the wrong order. Whether it is work, society or is partner Ben is always having to appease others and everyone is expecting him to be someone else and to act according to what they want him to be. When Ben’s boyfriend Cameron, Jake Speer, says he should ‘hold himself to a higher standard’ Ben still doesn’t snap but rather feels a hurt that is almost unthinkable. Cameron has known Ben since at least collage so what gives him the right to tell Ben how to act, live or be?
But this is a key moment in the show as it shows a deeper lack of understanding, sympathy or even compassion for Ben’s experience. And that is what is so refreshing about how CLICKBAIT, how they handle race and this lived experiences between the three central minority characters. Detective Roshan Amir, Phoenix Raei, Ben Park and Sophie Brewer each face issues that are brought to the surface in such a subtle manner. And when Sophie chides Pia saying in Episode 6: The Son ’You took a Black teenager to the Oakland Police?’ we begin to see where Cameron’s ignorance comes from.
"Audiences sit up and pay more attention because they are being offered a rare chance to see, in this instance, a gay Asian-American actor in such a powerfully realised role."
Ben has to contend with always having to prove himself even though his boss Dakota knows he’s the best journalist she has. Him having to blackmail her again with another station scoop shows her lack of respect for him. And later, just before the interview, I couldn’t help but feel offended when she says ‘my little interns all grown up’. It not only came across crass but it was also somewhat demeaning as Ben had clearly done more investigating than anyone else at the station and it seemed a throwaway comment that wasn’t as celebratory as it could have been.
When a TV show is willing to genuinely elevate characters and actors of colour in new projects the results can be groundbreaking. Audiences sit up and pay more attention because they are being offered a rare chance to see, in this instance, a gay Asian-American actor in such a powerfully realised role. We see Lim portray Ben as a hero and that is but like so many minorities, has to make far too big a sacrifice and far too much is always asked of him.
Abraham Lim’s performance as Ben Park should be all the proof needed to ensure that future programmes and films can feature minority characters, sans any racial stereotypes, can be heroes, have depth and complex.