The documentary My Name Is Kim Bok Dong opened in Korean theaters on August 8, during a time of already tense relations over trade issues between Korea and Japan. The film’s topic relates to another ongoing and contentious negotiation between the two governments, concerning compensation for the enslaved Korean women forced to serve as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The subject of the film, human rights activist, Kim Bok Dong, died in January 2019, at the age of 93, after a 27-year-battle to get Japan to acknowledge its wartime actions. Although exact numbers are hard to document, it’s estimated that as many as 200,000 Korean women were forced into sexual servitude during the war, an enslavement that resulted in physical and psychological trauma. Many women died.
Kim, who grew up in what she once described as a “tight knit family,” said she was taken away by the Japanese military at the age of 14, ostensibly to work in a factory. Instead, she said that she was forced to become a sex slave.
When she finally returned from Japan after the war, Kim was afraid to share what happened to her. Finding it difficult to deal with the shame, she kept her experience a secret for decades. However, in 1992 she decided to step forward and publicize the issue. She wanted an official apology from the Japanese government.
During the following decades, Kim’s efforts to find justice involved traveling to other countries to speak about the issue, as well as participating in weekly protests in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. While her outspoken testimony about her own experience did finally help pressure the Japanese government to acknowledge the existence of comfort women, she said that any apologies uttered by officials fell short of a full admission of guilt.
In Dec. 2011, on the 1,000th anniversary of the first weekly protest, a statue of a young woman, symbolizing Korea’s “comfort” women, was installed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Also called the Statue of Peace, it was erected as a request for a sincere apology. Since then the Japanese embassy has repeatedly asked for the statue to be taken down.
According to her BBC obituary, Kim rejected previous negotiations between the two governments on the topic of compensation for “comfort women,” saying that it was never about the money. She was fighting for a full admission of guilt, because some in Japan still allege the women were not forced to work as prostitutes.
The documentary, which premiered in May at the 20th Jeonju International Film Festival, was directed by Song Won Geun I. Song previously directed a documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster Horrendous Sewol, the Lies of the Nation (2015) and other documentaries about Korea’s social issues.
The documentary is narrated by Baeksang-Award-winning actress Han Ji Min.
The film is the third documentary produced by the nonprofit organization Newstapa, which also produced the investigative documentaries Criminal Conspiracy and Spy Nation.
Kim Geun Ra wrote the screenplay for My Name Is Kim Bok Dong.
This story was originally published on forbes.com.