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May 12, 2023 - 

The 2022 Korean legal drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo follows Woo Young-woo, a brilliant young attorney with autism. Though she graduates at the top of her law school class, she struggles to find a job because of her neurodivergence. After finally starting as an attorney at a large law firm in Seoul, her photographic memory and intelligence help her to excel in a variety of difficult court cases that span issues like domestic abuse, undocumented immigration, and the assault of a woman with intellectual disabilities. But she also struggles to find her way through office bullying and the assumptions made by her co-workers and friends. She navigates morally ambiguous cases and experiences her first budding romance, as well as the complications this causes.

Starring Park Eun-bin, Kang Tae-oh, and Kang Ki-young, Extraordinary Attorney Woo manages to walk the knife’s edge across many sensitive topics in a winsome way, reflected in its popularity as Netflix’s sixth-most-popular non-English show of all time.

In particular, the series highlights a problem in many countries: ableism, or the favoring of able-bodied people. Son Da-eun of Autism Partnership Korea is quoted in an article saying, “Despite the prevalence of autism in Korea, you rarely have interactions with persons with autism on a daily basis.”

Some people with autism have thus applauded the series’ portrayal of Woo Young-woo, which helps them feel seen and empowered in their neurodivergence. Haley Moss, the first openly autistic lawyer in Florida, writes positively on the American Bar Association’s page, “I found Young-woo, the titular attorney, to be endearing and relatable.”

However, Moss is also critical of Young-woo’s lack of self-advocacy, often relying “on the kindness of others rather than fully forging her own path.” Others have criticized Young-woo’s genius capabilities, which bolsters false stereotypes about those with autism, and have wondered why an actor with autism wasn’t chosen to portray Young-woo. 

Regardless, Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a significant step forward in Korea and many other countries in giving voice to neurodivergent people. Its likable cast, exciting courtroom drama, and affection for Young-woo make the series an overall win. (Netflix)

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