Rumors that the South Korean government has created a blacklist of almost 10,000 artists who will be denied government support have been confirmed.

South Korean daily Hankook Ilbo on Oct. 12 reported it had obtained a list of 9,473 individuals in the local entertainment industry including actors, directors and producers, who will be refused government financial and production support. The 100-page document was sent to South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) from President Park Geun-hye’s office, according to the Hankook Ilbo.

The people included in the blacklist are all believed to have protested against the government's handing of the sinking of the MV Sewol in 2014. The ferry capsized while carrying 476 people, and led to the death of 304 passengers — mostly secondary school students — and crew members.

The South Korean government and media were accused of inefficient disaster response and of seeking to downplay the government’s responsibility. Approval ratings for President Park Geun-hye fell from 71 percent before the disaster to around 40 percent in the weeks after the incident.

In 2015, a documentary on MV Sewol, “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol,” was selected to screen at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), but Busan Mayor Seo Byung-soo requested the screenings be canceled. The BIFF ignored his demands and has since “been confronted with a series of challenges, including audits carried out by the city and drastic cuts to its budget by the Korean Film Council,” Variety reports.

This sparked concern about freedom of expression in the South Korean film industry. The local industry formed the Pan-Film Industry Emergency Committee to Defend Freedom of Expression in support of the BIFF, which gained backing from the international film industry.

However after its screening of “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol,” BIFF festival director Lee Yong-kwan was accused by the Busan City Government in late 2015 of paying illicit sponsorship fees. The Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea has also requested the Busan city government “prosecute Lee and the festival’s former and current general managers.”

In a statement, BIFF said, “The city government’s recent accusation is surely revenge against the festival for screening [the] documentary ‘The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol’ (a.k.a. ‘Diving Bell’) [in 2014].”

The statement goes on to say, “Normally, the national board would offer corrective recommendations to organizations or institutions with such administrative mistakes, or discipline the persons concerned. That the board had exceptionally requested that the city charge BIFF, and that the city is pushing ahead with [prosecution] clearly show that the ulterior motive is to oust the festival director.”

Lee stepped down as festival director in February, a position he occupied since 2011. The former director was charged with fraud in May, and prosecutors on Sept. 28 sought one year imprisonment. The verdict is to be handed down on Oct. 26.

The 21st BIFF ended on Oct. 15. While some members of the film industry stayed away from this year's festival , other have been wearing stickers with hashtags “#Support BIFF #Support Mr Lee” to festival events.

Among the people reportedly listed in the government’s blacklist is acclaimed director Park Chan-wook, who won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for the film “Oldboy.” The director was among those who on May 1, 2015, participated in a group protest against the handling of the MV Sewol incident.

MCST Minister Yoo Jin-ryong has denied receiving the list, Taiwanese media China Times has reported. Ruling party legislators say the blacklist was "pieced together” from documents that were already made public on the Internet, Yonhap news agency reports.

The South Korean movie industry has been taking the world by storm in past years, and the recent zombie apocalypse film “Train to Busan” has set box office records in multiple countries. Seoul announced on Sept. 8 that the arts would become a compulsory subject in middle school education, which raised discussion of the government’s wide support of the arts industry in South Korea.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole