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Where are the Asians on Australian screens?

  • 06 February 2018


Seeing yourself and your community represented in the everyday culture that surrounds you is important to feeling like you belong.

While I always want to see a higher number of culturally diverse roles and representations on Australian television and film screens, I also want to see more diversity in these representations. Don't give me a 200 per cent jump in Asian Australian representation on Neighbours, for example, and have those roles be the serving staff at the Waterhole.

These kinds of representations and stories are important, and we need to move past the usual stereotypes that have been served up. To give you an idea of how underrepresented non-Anglo characters are on Australian television, Screen Australia's 2016 report states: '32 per cent of Australians have a first or second-generation background other than Anglo-Celtic, compared to only 18 per cent of main characters in TV dramas from the last five years' (Australian screen diversity).

Similarly, the Australia Council of the Arts' Making Art Work research reports that only ten per cent of those working in this sector are of from NESB (non-English speaking background) groups. The Australia Council research in this sector includes those who are working the screen industries.

In response to this dearth of opportunity for those of diverse cultural backgrounds, Diversity Arts Australia formed to promote cultural diversity in the arts. Their priority is to 'create the conditions for people from a multitude of cultural backgrounds to participate in our creative sector'. They 'want to see an arts and screen sector that is built on diversity from the ground up, spotlighting the structures, content, conventions and cultural assumptions that are holding us back'.

For an Asian Australian whose childhood spanned the late 1970s-1980s, my television and film diet was heavily weighted towards Hollywood blockbusters, UK comedy series and crime dramas, and the occasional Australian soapie.

Pre-media streaming and the internet, our family watched bootlegged Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movies from Hong Kong, and many of my older relatives watched long, long Cantonese soap operas. We had a magpie approach to trying to find the media we wanted to watch, and jerry-rigged what I thought was a unique cluster of experiences. It was only later, when I met more Asian Australians of my generation, that I realised those experiences weren't quite as unique as I had thought!


"It's the Asian Dynasty that I've always wanted, but even better."


And in 2018? We are spoilt for choice in terms of finding