“I think commercial TV should take a leaf out of children’s TV in this country. We are a rainbow nation in kids TV. No tokens here.” Jay Laga’aia
I have to admit I contemplated using a less direct title for this article however, I ultimately chose to believe that my readers are intelligent and open-minded enough that I can come out and openly say it: Mainstream Australian Television Is Racist!
Before I jump on my soapbox I would like to quote a similar article:
“If this revelation causes even a hint of anxiety, please let me clarify. Australian TV is as sexist, ageist, fattist and teethist as it is racist. So let’s take solace in the fact that the country’s most popular medium does not discriminate in its discrimination.
Local content is beige, literally. Commercial and historical factors have conspired against a healthy representation of difference.” source
Firstly I want to clarify that my words are based on my past experience as a Southern European person working within the landscape of the Australian entertainment industry and what I have to say applies to pretty much any racial group that is not Anglo-Australian. If you are Anglo-Australian, this is by no means written to exclude or demonise you, in fact I have many Anglo friends in the industry who have noticed the same trends and admit that they don’t often see this discrimination because, “I’m white Australian. I don’t notice.”– source suppressed
We are a nation that prides itself on having a diverse culture, just enter any typical Australian, metropolitan suburb and you will come across people of Indian, African, Asian and European decent. So why doesn’t our mainstream television networks represent this diversity in our everyday programming? Is it any wonder the eyes of other nations may sometimes look at us and see a less than desirable picture?
Now I can already hear the echo of, “Ah but you’re wrong there’s that guy on *enter TV show here* he was *enter ethnic background here*!”, and you’d be right—occasionally there is an ethnic character written into an Australian television show. However, can we really say a couple of secondary characters makes for a true representation of what modern Australian life is really like? Not only do ethnic characters (and by default actors) miss out on leading roles on Australian television, but they are also often portrayed as watered-down, stereotypes of the ethnicities they depict.
For example, when it comes to Mediterranean’s, the men are generally written in as criminal-mob caricatures (Underbelly) or loveable but not very intelligent mechanic types (not that I have anything against mechanics, although I will point out my mechanic is as Dinky-Di-Aussie as they get). And the women don’t fair much better. They tend to be portrayed as down-trodden (usually by their criminal dad/ boyfriend) types that have one major passion in life, cooking. Yes, as with any large group, there will be criminals, general repeated themes i.e. cooking and free-loaders, but it is does not make up the totality of who we are.
As I write this article I do so with the awareness that I am tired of seeing these one-dimensional depictions miss the point completely. People of ethnic backgrounds are in reality doctors, teachers, scientists, artists, we work in the forefront of software development, at grocery stores and yes, as mechanics. We are intelligent. We or our parents have migrated to Australia with the express goal of getting themselves and/or their children educated—and with the desire to be fully contributing citizens. To depict us as ‘less than’ is unfair and incorrect. We love, fear, and dream just as any person does.
Furthermore we journey to this country with amazing stories—stories of survival, strength, war and loss. Our histories include Knights, Gladiators, Ancient Traditions, Tzars, and Rajah’s… And yet with so much to offer, there is no voice for these stories on our Australian television screens. No characters we can identify with or aspire to…
“We are left to choose between shows that marginalise ethnic characters through ancient stereotypes or, if we want to view diversity, flick over to “our” dedicated channel SBS that we should be happy to have and stop complaining.” source
Now before anyone is tempted to use the tired old retort, “If you don’t like it, go back to your own country.”, I would like to mention that the sad truth is for many performers and artists this is exactly what they do. And if not to their ‘own country’, than to one in which they’ll have a fighting chance (Anthony LaPaglia, anyone?). In doing so they take with them their unique voice and ability to contribute to Australia financially and culturally. Indeed, often it takes leaving our shores before our mainstream stations will consider giving these performers air-time.
To further my point I would like to mention that only a few years ago there was a lawsuit involving Maltese newsreader Christine Spiteri. When she was fired from Channel Nine with over thirteen years experience under her belt, she was allegedly told by news chief John Westacott that, “with a surname like Spiteri you should try SBS“. Here Westacott outrightly admits that Ms Spiteri’s cultural background limits her hire-ability within mainstream, Australian Television, and with attitudes such as this at the helm it’s easy to see why this narrow-minded sentiment continues to be fed on-masse to Australians on a daily basis.
Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that my words are not said in bitterness. Though it has not been easy, I’ve been lucky to be a full-time artist with more work than I handle (work I scraped together myself, very little was handed to me); however I did want to voice my opinion on the plan reality of what is happening. You just need to switch on your television to see the truth. I say this because I believe honesty is far more important than avoiding offence. I for one would like to see a mainstream television landscape where ethnic backgrounds are represented in important positions—in leading roles, with positivity, and with full personalities written into scripts. So that maybe, just maybe, we might start believing that there is more to people with an ethic background than gangsters and cooks.
Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.
For updates on me, my articles and posts, please sign up for my new monthly newsletter. All details will remain private.
M WilliamsonMarch 27, 2013 - 7:00 am ·
Great article. This is something that I have always queried. I think you might find some interesting reading in the Fair Work Act and that much of this practice is classified as discriminatory.
Peter AbramMarch 27, 2013 - 11:48 am ·
I know in The UK it’s the tragedy in a lot of black Shakespearean actors lives that their TV career usually involves playing bad guys. That must be so frustrating
Katerina SimmsMarch 28, 2013 - 3:19 pm ·
Thanks for your replies, this article has also received comments elsewhere such as:
“People like to watch shows about people like them, and a large chunk of the population is Anglo-Celtic (74% 2010 estimate) and Television is about serving the consumer with content they want to watch and can relate to.”
All I see is a quarter of “consumers”/ our population not getting to “watch shows about people like them” or being served “with content they want to watch and can relate to.”… To make matters worse what we do see is stereotypical and insulting- just sound’s like bad business and lazy show writing really.