With the popularity of the Netflix show Squid Game rising swiftly over the past few weeks, many fans have declared their love for the show’s Pakistani character, Ali Abdul. Player 199 (the number used to identify him in the game) is a hard-working, loyal man, who sparked debate among fans due to his personality and attitudes towards those around him. While this arc may come across as a subplot created to justify his appearance in the game, the fact of the matter is Ali’s story gives many people an insight into the reality of millions of migrant workers who, sadly, are the victims of modern-day slavery.
From the first time we met him to his last scene, Ali’s character succeeded in capturing the hearts of thousands of fans. In episode one, we’re briefly introduced to the character who saved the life of the protagonist of the show, Seong Gi-Hun, during the game “Red Light, Green Light.” However, it is episode two that’s crucial to understand his story, in which the migrant worker is yet to be paid by his employer, but instead has been lied to and overall been exploited. This then leads to a physical dispute, causing the employer a severe injury, giving Ali the opportunity to take an envelope full of money from the man and run away to his poorly conditioned shelter, where he gives his wife the money for her to go back to their homeland while he returns to the game. From then on, we witness him experience different types of treatments from the people around him, from generosity and inclusion, to discrimination and betrayal, consequently leading to his heartbreaking elimination in episode six.
With thousands, if not millions, of people praising Squid Game, and many coming up with theories about the production, the Internet has not failed to state (and debate) their opinions about Ali Abdul. It comes as no surprise that people are divided when it comes to his personality and whether or not his pure characteristics are the reason for his unbearable fate. While some fans believe Player 199 trusted people too easily, others are keen to defend the Pakistani character and instead blame other characters who were in and out of the game for treating the man so harshly. No matter what people’s opinions of Ali Abdul are, it is important to take into account the context behind his character and why he represents a reality of immigrants and migrant workers all around the world.
With millions of people migrating away from their countries for a better life, usually in a financial aspect, a large number of them may come across a lot of discrimination, manipulation, exploitation and assault while trying to make ends meet on a daily basis. With that in mind, many of the people will work really hard — even to points their bodies can’t handle — and will accept what they receive and show as much gratitude as they can, even if it’s nowhere near the bare minimum of what they actually deserve. In some cases, these actions come with the intention to satisfy those around them in order to protect themselves from much worse. Of course, this is not to say immigrants and migrant workers are polite and hardworking only when it benefits them! It’s a trait that should be praised and used as an example to represent the true nature of millions of immigrants who sacrifice a lot to provide for themselves and their families, as well as taking up significant occupations that others often overlook or forget the importance of. The issue, however, is the suffering a large number of migrant workers face regardless of their utmost respect and formality towards the people around them.
Many believe that Ali was better off not trusting anyone or showing any respect to the likes of Player 218, Choi Sang-Woo, who betrayed him in episode six by declaring himself the winner of a game involving marbles, which Sang-Woo stole off Ali and swapped them for pebble. Others, on the other hand, point out that even if Ali was a hostile character, his fate may still be the same or much worse.
No matter what people’s opinions about Ali Abdul are, it is important to take into account the context behind his character, and why he represents a reality of immigrants and migrant workers all around the world.
In a Tiktok video by user @zhuzhujade, she addresses the reality of being a migrant worker in South Korea, as well as analyses Ali’s language throughout the show, specifically how formally he speaks compared to his employer who speaks in “casual speech” with Ali, which is quite a “demeaning” way of talking, whether or not he’s Ali’s superior. It’s also important to mention that as a migrant worker, Ali may not have not brought documents nor had any sort of insurance with him as part of his contract when working, hence the lack of treatment for his fingers, which brings the dangers migrant workers face when working, to light.
With modern-day slavery being a serious issue globally, having characters like Player 199 who convey real life suffering of millions could hopefully spark a conversation to make a big change in regards to racism, xenophobis and how migrant workers are treated. However this won’t be done without pressuring bigger organisations to take action. Until then, life is a lose-lose situation for people like Ali Abdul, whether or not they find themselves in a fictional scheme where they play children’s games in order to live and win money that costs people’s lives.