Does the Australian arts truly represent our modern society?

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Members of the Diversity committee

Does the Australian arts (film, TV, theatre etc) truly represent our modern society?

The simple answer is No…not yet, but the wheels are in motion.

On the 5th  July, 2013, MEAA (Media Entertainment Arts Alliance) established a Diversity Committee to promote and advocate for more realistic representations on Australia’s screens and stages for a more inclusive industry. About forty performers from varying performance backgrounds, ethnicities and areas of Australia are on the Committee, as well as a panel of arts industry professionals who together look at the current state of the arts. The Equity Diversity Committee considers diverse casting to include the casting of ethnic minority performers, women performers and performers with disability in roles where race, ethnicity, gender or the presence or absence of a disability is not essential to the plot.

The Guardian recently reported that five Sydney and Melbourne theatres have been criticised for an absence of curatorial ideas in their 2015 seasons, failing to engage with the contemporary Australian and world politics for being very “white”.

Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company tend to be “about big names” and “driven by star power”, says Lachlan Philpott, chair of the Australian Writer’s Guild playwrights committee.

At STC, only Kylie Coolwell’s Battle of Waterloo, a portrait of a contemporary Indigenous community, seems to be driven by a wider ambition to reflect contemporary Australian society.

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Playwriting Australia is, however, to be commended for having a diverse cast of readers for their 2014 National Play Festival. Two plays which showed a diverse cast includes – Moths by Michele Lee and Thieves by Kathryn Ash. With Thieves, two characters in the play were non-specific in race, actors Pearl Tan and Haiha Le played the “Australian” female characters. This clever “colour blind” casting decision is something that needs to be more apparent in all areas of the performing arts casting in order to correctly represent our society as it stands today, as our younger generation need to feel that they belong in society, our culture. The only other two plays this year which notably showed “diversity” were Kim Carpenter & John Bell’s Monkey (Bell Shakespeare) with Aljin Abella, Aileen Huynh, Ivy Mak and Lia Reutens and Alex Lykos’ (BullDog Theatre Company) “It’s War” starring Maria Tran in the title role.

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Television ,however, is the more powerful medium because it is more accessible to everyone, especially online. When I was growing up we didn’t have computers and there was very few people who I could identify with on television who looked like me apart from news journalist Lee Lin Chin, who Dad used to watch on SBS news and Alison Fan on Channel Seven News in Perth. It wasn’t until I was on university prac when I had a discussion with school students who said that they wanted to work in television but they didn’t see anyone looking like them on screen. This motivated me to audition to be a presenter on Play School. After two audition attempts I got the role but it wasn’t luck in my case; it was pure hard work and determination.

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In the last few years I have slowly noticed a change in television as reality television has dominated. I’ve watched the rise of outstanding talent with Dami Im and Marlissa winning X-Factor due to public voting, as well as Poh Ling Yeow being runner up in Masterchef. This shows that Australians want real representations of our multicultural society.

 

On the 26th October, 2014, it was M.E.A.A.’s 75th Anniversary and they held a special summit with Creativity and Diversity as their main two themes. Adam Moore, SAG’s National Associate Director of Affirmative action and Diversity was the keynote speaker. He stated in his address to the audience that in the United States, statistics prove that films and T.V. programs which show “diversity” attract a much wider audience, hence more dollars in the networks’ pockets and at the box office. Moore encourages all people in the position of power to take note as “diversity is not a liability it is an asset!” After his speech he received a standing ovation from the crowd. Visionaries like him are rare, but hopefully becoming more common. I hope his speech inspires those who work in the industry to take note and put his words into action.

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FREE UPCOMING EVENT

A Multicultural Community Forum and Q & A will feature Equity Diversity Committee Member / actor Joy Hopwood talking about the importance of Diversity in TV, Theatre & Film and the success of Equity’s 75th Summit and the goals of the Diversity committee along with Greens NSW Spokesperson for Multiculturalism, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, Asian Australian Alliance convenor’s Erin Chew and Freelance writer, playwright and novelist, Saman Shad.

When Saturday 15th November, 2pm-5pm                     Where: Unions NSW Building, Lvl 4, 20 Wentworth St, Parramatta

Free Light refreshments will be available.

Please RSVP to matthew.hilton@parliament.nsw.gov.au by Friday 7 November

 

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All photos courtesy of the Diversity Committee, Dami Im’s, Marlissa’s Facebook page and the Play School photo and Poh Ling Yeow’s photo courtesy of A.B.C.

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