Screening diversity

Recently, the mediasphere has been running hot with a series of articles and associated commentary about the lack of cultural (racial) diversity represented on our television screens, and in Australian media in general.

Spurred on by criticisms about the Australian television industry from Firass Dirani and Jay Laga’aia, various commentators contributed to the debate about representing cultural/racial diversity on Oz TV (and many readers voiced their concerns in the very active comment sections). Dirani started the momentum by calling for a more accurate representation of 2012 Australia on TV, while Laga’aia tweeted about being written out of Home and Away and his tweeted comments caused a stir.

The question of culturally diverse representations in our media is a constantly challenging issue, but the conversations that were re-ignited and given air-time since February this year clarify just how big the gap is between the reality of the street and what we see on our screens.

I’ve listed some of the subsequent pieces on casting and media diversity here:

Advocates of diversity in representation are essential, and constantly and urgently needed.

Since starting the AASRN and learning more about what was (not) out there for Asian Australian advocacy, I’ve realised how constant the demand is for someone to get out there and ‘set the record straight’ about racism, discrimination, essentialisation, what Asian Australians ‘really’ think about X issue, or why an Asian Australian woman might feel ambivalent about Charlie Teo’s celebrity status (just for example…).

A fabulous arts advocacy organisation that has been around for a while now is Performance 4a. The team behind it is mainly Sydney-based, but the project’s reach is definitely intended as inter/national.

The Performance 4a team, led by current president Annette Shun Wah, is a great mix of high-profile artists, performers and theatre professionals, media types, educational and culture managers. None of those categories are exclusive, either.

Blurb from the Performance 4a website:

Performance 4a (formerly Theatre 4a) is a not-for-profit incorporated association based in Sydney, Australia. We seek to engage artists and audiences alike, by focusing on the dynamic discussion about how “Asia” and “Australia” are intrinsically related in everyday contemporary life.

Besides a great newsfeed that showcases great events, projects, and community call-outs, it features a unique directory of Asian Australian performers, most of the listed people are multi-talented and many of them are multilingual. You can search for comedians, writers, dancers, designers, agents, and much more.

When you see the wealth of talent represented in that directory (and this directory is only a glimpse of the performers and creatives out there), you have to ask yourself: Is it true that the more mainstream media producers can’t find any Asian Australians to appear in their productions and hire for their projects, or is it just that they’re too damn lazy to look further than their standard call sheets?

Similarly, the notion that a ‘standard’ Australian does not look Asian is one that must change. While a form of colour-blind casting may go some way in redressing the erasure of Asian Australians from the Australian mediascape, I think a more well-resourced and supported film and television industry here in Australia – one that was savvier with marketing itself and offering opportunities to its emerging practitioners – is what will make the difference in showing and telling more about Asian Australian stories and lives.

How to find Performance 4a:

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It’s also a great time to point out:

The special Asian Australian Film Forum 2011 issue of Peril is now published!

A special issue of Peril (Asian Australian magazine of arts and culture) has just been published that includes Annette Shun Wah’s keynote address from the inaugural AAFF in November 2011.

This special issue is brimming with interviews and articles about Asian Australian representation in film, television and other media. Little did we know that this Peril issue on Asian Australians and film and other media would be published within such a resonant sociopolitical context.

I should state up front that I carried out two of the interviews in this special issue (one with veteran Filipino-Australian actor Alf Nicdao, and the other with Melbourne horror movie-maker Min Tran).

Also in the issue’s line-up:

  • INTERVIEWS with the AAFF co-convenors Indigo Willing and Amadeo Marquez-Perez; Sofie Kim; Dominic Golding; Chris Pang; Sky Crompton; Jack Ngu; Somchay Phakonkham; Quan Tran; Michael ‘Tokyo Love-in’ Chin; Corrie Chen; Heng Tang; Hoang Tran Nguyen + David Cuong Nguyen; and Pearl Tan. Interviews conducted by Lian Low, Owen Leong, and myself.
  • ARTICLES by Lian Low (a really good editorial that I feel mine echoes, though Lian and I wrote them independent of each other!), Jiao Chen, Kieran Tully, and Maria Tran.
  • VOX POPS from PJ Madam, Andy Minh Trieu, Jane Park, Yu Ye Wu,  and Joy Hopwood.

I’ve waxed at length about the AAFF and formation of the AAFFN in a previous post so I won’t go on about it too much here. Suffice to say that seeing all the interviews, articles, and vox pops together thrilled me.

Reading the stories and getting to know the range of experiences that have driven people to commit to the creative field is wonderful. I didn’t realise how hungry I was for this kind of material until I saw it. And now I want more of it, about different kinds of pursuits.

Congrats to the Peril and AAFFN teams for making this special issue happen. I’m really pleased that the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) enabled it, and that the AAFFN is already planning its next event!

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4 thoughts on “Screening diversity

  1. Estelle Tang 13/03/2012 / 9:39 pm

    Hi Tseen — great post and great round-up of the media response to Dirani and Laga’aia’s criticisms of the lack of diversity in Australian television (and, indeed, other media, as you say). I just wanted to include a link to Sukhmani Khorana’s piece for the Kill Your Darlings blog (of which I am the editor), in which she explores ethnic diversity in television, as I don’t think the ABC link contains any audio or text of Sukhmani’s argument: http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/2012/01/ethnic-diversity-on-australian-television/. It’s a great read.

    • Tseen Khoo 14/03/2012 / 9:48 am

      Thanks for that, Estelle. Excellent suggestion and, yes, the ABC interview’s disappeared! Have included the Killings article in the listing – and loved Sukhmani’s earlier piece about Poh, too.

  2. fiajawhiteman 05/06/2012 / 7:04 pm

    Sorry…am several months late to most discussions. Andrea Demetriades (Sydney Actress) had an interview in SMH when she was in BS’s Pygmallion re: her greek heritage/parallels/ language etc… it came out around the same time as the underbelly dude’s statements.

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