This article discusses minor plot details from “XO, Kitty.”
Now that we’ve gotten the general reviews and reactions to Netflix’s “XO, Kitty” out of the way, it’s time to dig into the delicious nuances of culture and queerness on the show.
The spinoff of “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” follows Kitty Song Covey, played by Anna Cathcart, as she embarks on an international school journey in South Korea. Kitty, the younger sister of Lara Jean from the original series, goes to Seoul to trace the footsteps of her late mother, who attended the Korean International School of Seoul (KISS) decades before. She also goes to surprise her long-distance boyfriend, who also happens to attend KISS.
But once Kitty arrives at KISS, she’s horrified to find that her boyfriend, Dae, is already dating another girl, the so-called queen bee of the school, Yuri. What she doesn’t know is that Yuri is using Dae as a beard to cover up her own sexuality since Yuri’s mom is the principal of the school and expects nothing but perfection from her daughter. In this instance, perfection means having the right grades, the right image and a male suitor.
If all of this sounds messier than a Bud Light PR apology, that’s because it is. But the series, like its characters, gets more enlightening the more it leans into that mess. It is that intersection of queerness and East Asian culture that reveals how navigating two worlds — the personal and the communal — can turn into a soul-crushing experience unless you choose yourself.
No character exemplifies how excruciating that duality can be better than Yuri, played by Gia Kim. Throughout the series, Yuri detaches herself from her emotions as she navigates her mom’s expectations while also working through the sadness of losing her former girlfriend, who was removed from the school by her mom for dating her daughter. Throughout the series, Yuri succeeds in appeasing everyone except herself, and we can see how this reduces her to a shell of her true self and into a ruthless, and often angry, person.
Kim tells me she immediately gravitated toward Yuri’s character during auditions. Of all the characters in the show, it felt like Yuri had the most at stake, and yet, she’s the one who comes out knowing herself better than anyone else because she learns how to demand the love and respect she deserves.
Yuri’s ability to break free from her parents’ expectations toward the end of the series mirrors aspects of Kim’s life. She tells me that, growing up with Korean parents, her mom was strict with school and wanted Kim to get a “white collar job.” And exceptionalism was a challenging factor too; Kim’s first job was in journalism, and she says her mom was hoping she’d become something like the next Anderson Cooper. Ultimately, journalism wasn’t Kim’s passion, and she had known for a long time that, deep down, she wanted to be an artist. Much like Yuri, it took a moment of rupture — of confronting a persistent unhappiness living a life that was not for herself — to finally make a leap.
While watching “XO, Kitty,” Yuri’s storyline reminded me of a phenomenon I heard about a while ago among some queer Chinese people who manage to navigate familial duties, such as having kids, while also living their truths in silence. They enter something called “cooperative marriages,” which typically look like a lesbian woman and a gay man marrying each other while still maintaining same-sex relationships outside the marriage.
Although I’ve always admired and respected people who can navigate complicated social dynamics in such a careful way, pretending that much sounds exhausting as hell. Although confrontation can be uncomfortable and very scary, it is the first step toward growth. The only way out is through, and it’s something both Yuri and Kim eventually realized, too.
One day, Kim says, she finally decided she was going to pursue acting. She says it took her about three tries to change careers, but once she did, her parents had no choice but to accept and support her ambitions, too. “The most challenging and important thing in my life is to want the people I love to love me for who I am and who I really want to be,” Kim says. “And not who they want me to be.”
Kim understands she is one of very few representations of gay, South Korean women in American media right now. But the power of her character doesn’t just stem from the fact that she’s representing a new type of character (although that is groundbreaking in itself). That power also lies in the depth of a character who, although defensive and tough, ultimately cares about what others think and feel. And although that vulnerability is beautiful, it becomes self-sabotage when it comes at the expense of your own needs and freedom.
At some point, validation from others stops being enough because no one can choose you if you can’t truly accept yourself. “I really respected Yuri so much because she does step into her own voice and power in the series,” Kim tells me. “And she won.”