~~~~~[INTERVIEW] Tati Gabrielle, actress of Korean, African-American descent, feels proud of her heritage~~~~~ [INTERVIEW] Tati Gabrielle, actress of Korean, African-American descent, feels proud of her heritage - The Korea Times


ⓕ font-size

  • -2
  • -1
  • 0
  • +1
  • +2

INTERVIEWTati Gabrielle, actress of Korean, African-American descent, feels proud of her heritage

  • Facebook share button
  • Twitter share button
  • Kakao share button
  • Mail share button
  • Link share button
Actress Tati Gabrielle / Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Actress Tati Gabrielle / Courtesy of Sony Pictures

'Kaleidoscope' star talks about her identity, career

By Dong Sun-hwa

Born to a mother of Korean descent and African-American father, actress Tati Gabrielle grew up eating kimchi, a Korean staple made of fermented cabbage, and doing taekwondo, a martial art originating from Korea.

Although her environment was predominantly African American, Gabrielle and her siblings could still get a taste of Korean culture in their everyday lives thanks to their mother. At the age of four, she was adopted by an African American family in Virginia, who was neither able to speak Korean nor familiar with the East Asian country's culture. But she still embraced her roots and instilled a great deal of pride in her children toward their Korean heritage.

"My mom was not able to give us Korean-specific culture and language herself, but she strongly urged us to seek and explore more of our Korean heritage throughout our lives," Gabrielle, the star of the popular Netflix series, "Kaleidoscope" (2023), told The Korea Times.

"And that's exactly what we did. I remember being very proud even as a child to be, not just Asian, but Korean. I remember sitting in the kitchen with my mom drawing the South Korean flag on a huge poster board, making sure I had every elemental symbol right and in the correct position. That same year, we had a global parade at our school, and I wore my mother's hanbok which her adoptive father had bought for her when she was young. I walked that parade beaming with pride."

She has been enthusiastically learning the Korean language as well.

"I started learning to read and write in Korean when I met my first Korean friend in grade 6," the actress recalled. "I have also begun learning to speak and aim to become fluent within the next year."

Actress Tati Gabrielle / Courtesy of Netflix
Actress Tati Gabrielle / Courtesy of Netflix

For Gabrielle, the global ascent of Korean cultural content like K-pop, K-dramas and K-films has been influencing her life on both a personal and professional level. At home, her mother watches Korean dramas and listens to K-pop every day as part of her journey to reconnect with her culture, naturally leading Gabrielle to enjoy them also. The popularity of Korean culture has provided her with more opportunities in her career, too.

"It has opened the doors to opportunities in which I can freely connect with the richness of my culture beyond the home," she explained. "Like with 'Kaleidoscope,' I now have chances to bring my culture into my art effortlessly and without question or confusion. The rising popularity also inches me closer to being able to do projects in Korea as a Korean African American as I have always dreamed of, which was previously unthought-of. And with my platform, I intend to lean more into Korean culture popularity by finding even more ways to tell Korean stories in America and beyond through as many mediums as I can."

"Kaleidoscope" is an eight-part series revolving around a master thief and his team attempting a heist worth $7 billion. In the drama, Gabrielle plays a Korean character named Hannah Kim, a triple agent wearing multiple hats.

"My biggest challenge was trying to find a way to carry all of the knowledge that I knew Hannah had and drop small hints along the way without giving away too much to the audience," she said. "It was a big lesson in subtlety. But I was so excited to finally be playing a character that was my actual ethnicity, Korean and African American. I feel very proud to be able to represent all of the mixed-race Korean kids out there and I hope I did it in a way that makes my ancestors proud."

For those who are not yet so familiar with her name, Gabrielle recommends they watch "Kaleidoscope" first.

"It shows a lot of my range as an actor and I think this type of show will be intriguing to Korean audiences," she said. "And the fact that I play my real ethnicity as Korean American and speak Korean ― which was a choice I made myself although it was not originally in the script ― will hopefully tell them a little about who I am as a person and what I represent, as well as make them proud that I am doing my best to pay homage to my culture, my ancestors and my country despite not having grown up there."

Gabrielle was only 14 when she first decided to become an actress. She said she did so after taking to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, the largest arts and media festival in the world, established in 1947.

"That was the first time I fully understood the power of storytelling ― the way it impacts people and changes the course of someone's life," she said. "I wanted to be able to conjure that sort of magic forever. Since I was young, I have always been very sensitive and emotional, but I struggled to articulate those emotions, I was quiet and shy. In that way, acting has always been a very valuable outlet for me ― taking all of the things I feel and putting them into words that have already been written."

A scene from the Netflix series,
A scene from the Netflix series, "Kaleidoscope" / Courtesy of Netflix

As an actress, Gabrielle finds the most rewarding thing is that her character can change people's lives, or make them view the world from different perspectives. However, the loss of anonymity and the need to keep up appearances are something that she feels she has to overcome.

"I didn't choose this career to become famous, though I am very grateful for the fans I have garnered," she stressed. "Still, it is hard sometimes to always have the pressure of being perfect, to be treated as a commodity, and often stripped of humanity. I don't think any human can be perfect; our flaws are what make us human and unique individuals. However, I do challenge that idea of perfection, and aim to dismantle it every chance I get, by proudly showing my fans and the public how beautifully flawed I am while also encouraging them to embrace their flaws as well."

Gabrielle ― a supporter of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, mental health awareness and sustainability ― has many things on her plate this year. She will appear in the fourth season of psychological thriller series "YOU" in February and plans to visit Korea in March.

"I am so honored to have fans in Korea," she said. "They have helped me make my mother proud so my gratitude is eternal."

Gabrielle has a strong vision for her future, too.

"I want to continue to create impactful art that hits the world stage with a bang, not just as an actor, but also as a producer, writer and director," she revealed. "I aim to make music soon as well. I also want to leave a legacy of impact by establishing several initiatives that move the needle toward a utopian world, one where my kids can live happily without fear."

Dong Sun-hwa sunhwadong@koreatimes.co.kr

Interactive News

  • Unlocking Children's COVID-19 Stress through Art
  • Dark Truth of E-6
  • E-Prix thrills racing fans in Seoul
  • With tough love,
  • 'Santa dogs' help rebuild burnt forests in Andong
  • 'Santa dogs' help rebuild burnt forests in Andong

Top 10 Stories

go top LETTER