Julianne Schultz, former journalist, academic and editor of The Australian Financial Review was one of the first speakers of Diversity: Building a platform for change at AFTRS. She spoke how Australia has come a long way in the last 20 years. Having a welcome to country has come into place within the last 10 years as a gesture of respect for our Indigenous people-this is a big change. Julianne grew up in the 70’s where there was casual racism and sexism. She had always wanted to be a journalist and when she was going for jobs, people would always ask, “What’s wrong with teaching or nursing?” She recalls going for a job interview for the Australian Financial Review where the interviewer said, “OK, I guess we can hire girls who can work twice as hard as men for half the price!” The interview took place in a pub where she was then hired. She has since witnessed how things have changed and how we’ve come a long way since then – feminism in the media. She says today the bar has lifted higher and we have to raise the bar each year. Everyone is an outsider, everyone has a story and it’s important to recognise people’s uniqueness and their perspective on life and have that story shared and reach others who share similar stories as our differences give us strength.
Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia presented insights into Screen Australia’s recent study of on-screen diversity. Seeing ourselves: reflections of diversity in Australian TV drama. It’s important to have relevant data as it’s pivotal in how we see ourselves and how the world sees us. So how diverse is Australian Drama? He says, “We want Australians to identify with the onscreen characters.” The data focused on – Cultural Background, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Programmes like Please Like Me was life changing for young people in the study. Screen Australia also used the same categories as the Human Rights Commission. For cultural background they focused on Indigenous, Anglo-Celtic, European, Non-European. For disability it focused on physical, psychological, intellectual, sensory. They researched five years of drama and studied 199 programmes. They looked at programmes like Home and Away and Neighbours. They looked at the cultural background of actors, county of birth and parent’s birth place and 989 main actors were researched – thanks to surveys, interviews, biographies etc. They compared this to the actual Australian population where 67% are of Anglo background and in TV drama 82% of characters were Anglo and 76% were Anglo actors hired on screen. There was improvement in the representation of Indigenous on screen however those with a disability and minorities were well underrepresented.
What’s ideal? To have programmes that normalise diversity. There’s a need for authenticity. More opportunities for creatives with lived experience needs to be hired as consultants or writers. More ongoing bench-marking / research and colour blind casting.
The Good News Every channel and production company is up to the challenge and this creative issue. Reality TV such as The Voice, X-Factor, Masterchef & My Kitchen Rules and children’s online and TV shows prove popular due to diversity and use of colourblind casting and in business terms the profits are good.
Mounira Almenoar (Senior Researcher) mentioned that the best practice & approach to addressing equality and inclusion is research. She stresses the importance of data. Screen Australia has the Black List and Indigenous tracking, ICE in Western Sydney is a great initiative, First Nations and Indigenous Schemes – Best Practice, Industry attachment schemes.
For the panel discussion, Benjamin Law chaired. He started off the discussion with the question, “Why in 1992 was there 0 representation?”
Monica Davidson (journalist) answered, “Shouldn’t TV drama be a mirror of our lives?”
Courttia Newland (author) replied, “Australia is better than UK. There’s more to be done. You’re better than where we are now.”
Ade Djajamihardja (screen media professional) “It’s probably too hard, too difficult, that’s what happened to disability on screen. There needs to be 1) dedication, 2) Training for the screen sector, 3)training for people with disabilities 4) Accessibility for people with disabilities to screenings / conferences / workshops etc 5) inclusion.” One in five people in Australia have a disability. Time for a checklist.
Rosemary Blight (Producer) stated how Ryan Griffen (Cleverman) was an intern which Screen Australia helped and that it was a four year process for him to get his project up and running, thanks to that support. Also the Indigenous unit at ABC contacted her and said she should have an Indigenous consultant, which Ryan soon came on board.
Chrissie Tucker (ABC Diversity manager) said that the target for ABC diversity is 17% and they’re currently at 7%. This bench-marking scheme has only come to place in the last year.
A closing question from Bali Padda (MEAA Diversity) “We need a media action room. Let’s unite and take action together…NOW!”
Everyone in the room agreed. Diversity is a hot topic at the moment and in order for change we all need to unite, encourage and support each other. Actions speak louder than words.