Diversity Spotlight with creative & actor Kathy Luu

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Kathy Luu is an actor, director, photographer, writer and designer. Born in Sydney to Vietnamese refugee parents, she studied law and film at UNSW, before becoming an actor. Creating innovative short content videos and visuals for social media is part of Kathy’s creative practice. She is inspired by work that is bold, funny, unique, playful and crazily creative. Her film The Real Zombie Housewives has won international awards for its originality and comedy.

She can be last seen acting in the NBC comedy The Good Place, and domestically recently wrapped on the first Asian- Australian lead rom-com, Rhapsody of Love as the lead and associate producer.

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1) Who were your role models on T.V. & film when you were growing up? 

I grew up on a lot of Hong Kong TV and cinema (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style). These TV shows were epic adventures – adventures that were absolutely romantic in the sense of characters going on journeys bigger than themselves. It was like Asian Star Wars for character journeys. Despite going through so much pain, heartbreak and mishaps, these characters still had so much dignity, honour and love – and even the antagonists you felt for. It was pretty much like watching philosophy, ethics and human behaviour classes disguised as films!

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2) Who inspires you and why?

My late mother inspires me. She escaped Vietnam with my dad and came to this country at 21 without knowing the language or money or any family, and did everything to create a life and a living. She had such a strong spirit and a love of life, and was the kindest, sweetest and most loving person I knew. There’s a story of her making her very first paycheck in Australia for one months work – she got paid in cash and was so happy that she somehow left her wallet with all the money on the bus on the way home! She was crying at the bus stop and a kind woman saw her and called the bus company. The wallet was found and they went together in a taxi to collect it, and all the money was still there! She was extraordinary in heart and courage. I try to live more of these traits of hers every day.

Kathy Luu

3) Do you think there’s enough diversity reflected in Australian film and T.V.? (If no, why not, what do you think we should do to make change / if so why do you think that?) 

I feel we all know the answer to this! As mentioned below, if my co-star and I are the only Asian-Australians to be kissing on screen in the history of film here, there is something very wrong. We have an industry stuck in it’s old ways, an industry that has failed to keep up with the changing society around it, and thus failed the community it’s meant to serve. But things are changing rapidly, people are now being woken up to the truth of these old systems, the inherent biases, and no one is putting up with it. I have to give my utmost respect to my BIPOC industry friends who have stepped up fiercely to bring this awareness about. Awareness is like turning on the light in a dark room, and if the dark room is a metaphor for the industry – what will key decision makers in that dark room do now that they can see? 

I also feel filmmakers should start listening to their true hearts more. Not echoes of the heart of a white dominated film industry. But listen to your deeper heart that is of your experience, DNA, culture, something uniquely yours… each heart is different, the idiosyncrasies of who you are and your dreams will guide you to create work that is made of your diverse combination of being – you will not follow the old system. This will bring diversity not only in nationalities on screen, but also in ideas, stories, ways of telling the stories – there’ll be new stories and they will be diverse in every way. But we all have to be brave enough. So how to make change? Be brave and listen to your true heart more. And follow it through!

Something interesting to consider: Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”… so maybe it’s also time for us to build a new industry model.

And lastly (I have been contemplating this question a lot!), I feel we have to come together and celebrate our achievements more, celebrate each other more. There are a lot of BIPOC performers, as well as story makers now with more coming into the industry, and what we can do is love and celebrate each other’s achievements more. Love each other, care for each other, look out for each other and show the world what we are capable of, set a better example other than what we’ve been up against, because we know better. We (diversity) are where it’s at now. We’re the future of this industry.

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4) What was your last acting gig and why did you want to do it? 

My last gig was on romantic comedy feature Rhapsody of Love earlier this year. I’ve known Joy Hopwood the director for quite a few years, and have admired her determination and desire to write uplifting funny stories. So when the opportunity came up to work on a project that cast diversely, that wanted to break Asian stereotypes while telling a love story (I’m a romantic at heart), it was a no brainer. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen two Australian-accent speaking Asian-Australians fall in love or kiss on our screens, but yes unlike what we don’t see on TV, it is a fact that we do fall in love and make out in Australia 🙂

Damien Sato, Benjamin Hanly, Kathy Luu

5) What have you been doing during Covid19 to keep yourself creative? 

I have been doing a lot of cleaning actually, which I have found very creative and cathartic. I feel as humans we all have so many gifts inside us that we don’t get a chance to open, so Covid was a good time to unwrap these. It’s been a great chance to update my dreams too – dream new dreams! Saying that, I did manage to create a 5-part short content series called “Love In The Time of Covid-19 Love Song Dedications” as a segue for a friend’s streaming channel. It was an ironic silly fun show as we didn’t even play music, we just showed the titles of the dedications! The idea was actually better than the results, but I nonetheless was still pleased to come up and create something so ridiculous and apt for our times.

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6) What are your favourite films and why? 

I love thoughtful science fiction movies – a good one makes you think and feel something more on a whole different level. I’m a big fan of foreign cinema too – the story and filmmaking is different to mainstream US cinema and usually more intimate – it’s a luxury to pay $17 and get to glimpse and experience a totally different world and culture and feelings for two hours, very interesting to me! And lastly, romantic comedies –  nice light-hearted spritz for the soul!

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7) What advice do you have for anyone wanting to break into the entertainment industry? 

Do it for the right reasons. Do it for a personal reason. Be full of passion, joy and really really love and enjoy what you do – that is the fuel you need to get break into anything. I have actor friends who break into it early, and other who don’t. You might think it is sad if you don’t break into it straight away – but life is all experience. So trust your journey.

Secondly, a more practical advice – consider the idea of making a meaningful feature film, or create your own work or media. Don’t break into the industry. BE the industry. This will literally make our industry more diverse immediately too. If you get picked up by a big agent and land a netflix series overseas, then great. But if you’re here, don’t wait around. Go learn how to make films, find out what you love, check out other parts of the industry that interest you, check out other parts of life that interest you, go to do other fun things, go enjoy your life and being you – this will all add up to your acting and more.

And thirdly, be an artist. An artist in the sense of connecting to yourself and bringing something forth that is yours. To be attracted to this industry already means that you are full of ideas, dreams, stories and creation of new worlds. We are much more than we realise. So connect to your artist inside and bring forth something new for our industry and this world. Humanity needs nourishing food. We need you!

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8) Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time and why?

Being a thought-feel-creative-compassionate non-leader leader and visionary in my art, practise and work. Continued great collaborations with friends and peers. And beautiful happenings and experiences that I can’t even imagine yet.

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9) What is your motto that you live by?  

Choose life. Be easy, be playful. Reality is only temporary. And always say yes to dessert.

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Diversity Spotlight: Q and A with Tsu Shan Chambers

Tsu Shan

Tsu Shan Chambers is from a Malaysian-Chinese heritage, who originally trained at NIDA and has certifications in Stage Combat, Theatrical Firearms and Yoga Teaching.  An AFTRS alumni in producing, Tsu Shan was selected as one of Screen Producers Australia’s prestigious “Ones to Watch” in 2018.  She produced feature film ‘Unsound’ that premiered at the AACTA qualifying Mardi Gras Film Festival and recently won ‘Best Australian Feature Film’ at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.  The online action drama that she wrote and produced, ‘The Wild Orchards’, won 2 out of 7 nominations at the 2018 LA Webfest, including nominations for most Outstanding Drama, and her as most Outstanding Actress.   Tsu Shan also won ‘Best Ensemble of Cast’ at the 2016 World Film Awards for her short film ‘Tragic Enough’ where she played the lead role.

  • Who were your role models on T.V. & film when you were growing up? 

I love musicals so was always a big fan of Julie Andrews.  Sounds corny but I watched ‘The Sound of Music’ countless times growing up.  I also really enjoy reading English classics so love watching their film adaptations, especially anything with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth (I’m a big Mr Darcy fan).  I don’t remember seeing any Asian Australians on mainstream TV or film growing up but got to watch a lot of foreign films with my parents.  I’m a fan of Jackie Chan (his work ethic is inspiring and he’s actually a good singer!), Gong Li and my most favorite to this day is Michelle Yeoh.  So very talented with a diverse career crossing over both Asia and the West.

  • Why did you want to get into the entertainment industry?

I didn’t know much about the industry growing up in Darwin.  But I loved reading and watched a lot of TV.  Drama classes, singing in choirs or playing the flute in orchestras was also where I simply felt the most joy.  I was also passionate about public health and spent a lot of time volunteering in hospitals and the like when I was a teenager.  By the end of high school, I actually got into full-time musical theatre and Medicine.  But, yes…the typical Asian parental thing happened.  I chose the ‘approved’ way but picked Optometry instead. Eyes are much better to look at all day.

I spent a lot of time working in third world countries which is where my interest in women’s health and minority groups developed.  Regardless, I always had a pull towards the creative arts but it wasn’t until I had 3 children and they got a bit older that I decided to give my creative aspirations a go.  Whilst it hasn’t been an easy transition or juggle with “life”, I found I can still make a social impact through the arts.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

  • Who inspires you and why?

Aung San Suu Kyi  – the female Burmese politician and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Michelle Yeoh did a wonderful performance in her biopic ‘The Lady’).  Suu Kyi gave up her freedom to bring democracy to then military-ruled Burma. She became an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression (I think this is partly why I like Star Wars so much).

My other heroine is Joan of Arc.  She was a peasant girl who ended up leading the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years’ War.  Incredible.  It was one of the main reasons I travelled to France during university. (Milla Jovovich did a great job in the movie ‘The Messenger’ which was about her).

  • Do you think there’s enough diversity reflected in Australian film and T.V.? 

Frankly, no.  But it’s getting better.  I still feel it can be tokenistic.  i.e. The token black man or Asian appears. Or scenes in commercial television are not realistic to what it’s like in multicultural Australia.  But at least there is a conscious effort.  I get excited when I see genuine ‘blind casting’.

To change it?  It is multi-factorial but key creatives can start by making content that leads the way in that area. All the projects that I write or produce have diverse casts as the leads.  And I’m not just talking about ethnic diversity.  I also mean diversity in ability, sexuality and gender.  From a public health perspective, this is something I’ve been involved in well before I started working in the entertainment industry.

It may not be initially deemed as ‘commercial’ to create such projects in a conservative marketplace and it is much harder work to get up.  But it has been proven that such diverse projects can be an economic success if the right support is given.  It all starts with ourselves and removing the politics.

  • What have you been doing during Covid19 to keep yourself creative?

Prior to Covid-19, I worked very long hours around the family.  So, to actually have a ‘forced’ break was a mixed blessing.  My hours ended up dropping down to a more sustainable normality.  Rather than juggling Optometry/producing/writing/acting, I swapped out Optometry for home-schooling 3 kids.  ‘Getting creative’ took on a whole new meaning.

Even so, I still made time to do a polish of my 1hr TV pilot (loosely based on my experiences volunteering with the blind judo athletes during the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games).  I continued further development work on my producing slate.  There were opportunities to do a lot of self-tests, be part of an online theatre reading, watch industry seminars/masterclasses on Zoom and I finally got through a number of industry podcasts on my ‘to-do’ list.

I also started mentoring an emerging filmmaker through the WIFT MentorHer program as well as being matched with another amazing producer mentor in Melbourne.   It’s such a wonderful initiative.

Chambers Family

  • What made you want to be a filmmaker?

I was cast in a short film 6 years ago that was based on the domestic violence that can occur between Asian mail-order brides and Western men.  Not having produced a film before, I agreed to take on that role, simply because it was an important story to tell and it was aligned to my public health aspirations.  I really enjoyed the process and was surprised to find it similar to running a business which I had a lot of experience in.  It was an astounding light bulb moment of “Why had I not done this before?”

  • What are your favourite films and why?

The Sound of Music– I love musicals, the humor and range of emotions the story takes you to – it’s timeless.  It’s about not giving up.  It’s about following your heart – “Climb Every Mountain”.

Love Story– I discovered during my Producing studies at AFTRS that my thematic is love.  Shouldn’t have been a surprise but there it was. I remember watching this movie over and over again when I was young.  “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.  The theme song is divine.  Choose love, not fear.

  • What inspired you want to make Unsound?

When I was in my early teens, a young deaf boy who was very close to my family committed suicide.  I became even more determined to make a positive difference to the lives of minority groups.  UNSOUND was the first long-form project that I started to develop together with writer, Ally Burnham.

It is a coming of age romance drama with themes around deaf culture and gender identity. Auslan sign language is a feature of the film which is also unique to audiences and visually captivating to watch.  Our team believes that “love is love”, regardless of your sexual identity, ethnicity or abilities.   After premiering at the Mardi Gras Film Festival this year, the film recently won Pride Foundation Australia’s ‘Best Australian Feature’ at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Both lead actors are from the LGBTI+ community, one being a deaf actress, Yiana Pandelis. Our other co-lead actor, Reece Noi, is also half African Caribbean. Our key supporting actors are also from a diverse background. Christine Anu is Indigenous, Todd McKenney is LGBTI+ and an Auslan ambassador and Paula Duncan dedicates her life to helping those with disabilities.  We also employed deaf actors to play the deaf characters and behind the camera, we had Transgender and Auslan consultants, many crew with disabilities or whom identify with the LGBTI+ community and a close to 50/50 split between females and males in the crew and cast.

We want to use screenings to establish, drive and build a social movement with the film at its core and be a tool for corporates and organisations looking to raise awareness and discussion around issues of disability or sexuality.  Check out the trailer and look out for it  in cinemas later in the year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c85aXHth_uQ

  • What’s the biggest lesson you learned from making that film?

Trust your gut with making sure you are working with the right people and say no a lot earlier.

  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years time and why? 

Working with the United Nations and as an actor, writer and producer on aligned projects around the world.

11) What is your motto that you live by?

Make a positive difference, one life at a time.

Director Producer with key cast UNSOUND

“UNSOUND World Premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival”.

 

Diversity Spotlight: Actress Loretta Kung

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Loretta Kung is a Chinese Australian actress who represents the best of East
meets West. Born in Hong Kong, she moved to Darwin with her family
when she was a child. She has a strong connection with her cultural heritage
and is fluent in her native dialect of Cantonese. Loretta’s introduction to acting
was an accident. After discovering her true passion she commenced her
journey as an actor by studying at “The Actors Workshop” in Brisbane and
graduated with an Advanced Diploma of Film, TV and Theatre Acting.

 

She is known for her role as Aunty Daisy in the SBS TV Series “The Family Law” (Season 1 & 2). Another highlight was working alongside Bryan Brown in the feature film “Australia Day” directed by Kriv Stenders.

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Qu.1. Who were your role models growing up?

I have two older brothers so I grew up watching a lot of Chinese martial arts movies and horror films! So you can say, I have been heavily influenced by people like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Freddy Krueger (not sure if you would call him a role model..haha). As dancer, I was totally obsessed with Janet Jackson!

Qu.2. How did you break into the entertainment industry?

My break out role was “Aunty Daisy” on SBS television show “The Family Law” created by Benjamin Law. I feel so privileged to be part of this ground breaking Australian TV series, starring Asian-Australian actors as leads on prime-time television. It was so much fun playing “Aunty Daisy” for three seasons and working with such an awesome team.  It was such a special experience that I will treasure it for ever.

Qu.3. What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a Tropfest film call “Eagle Flyer”, a story inspired by true events written and directed by Imogen Ross (Neon black Pictures).

My next project is to start writing a book about my Mum and hope to put it on screen one day! I want to share her journey and resilience in surviving the war in china, being sold as a child slave, migrating to Darwin without speaking a word of english and living through breast cancer twice.  She is my hero and my life inspiration!

Qu.4. What do you want to achieve in the industry?

I want to continue working on screen and stage as an actor to connect with people. For me, acting is about connecting people together and challenging the way we think to create better understanding and empathy. I hope to continue to work on projects that can break down stereo types and help bring more diversity and inclusiveness to our community.

Qu.5. What are your thoughts on Diversity in Australia on screen and in theatre?

The momentum is growing and industry creatives are encouraging more open and diverse casting. However to help drive this forward, we need to support our writers to allow them to create and tell diverse stories.

I recently saw “White Pearl” a co-production between Sydney Theatre Company and Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta. It is unprecedented and was so inspiring to see SIX female Asian-Australian actresses on the main stage. The play was also written by “Anchuli Feclicia King” a play wright with Asian Australian heritage. It is so good to be able to celebrate such success!

Qu.6. What is a quote you live by?

I heard this on a podcast recently and it really resonated with me because I am such a foodie! (haha)

“Live life like a buffet!” – Have fun, play and explore. Savour every bite and enjoy every moment.

Qu.7. Who are your favourite actors / actress today and why?

I have so many but Meryl Streep and Hugh Jackman are two on top of my list. I am totally in awe of Meryl Streep’s ability to transform herself into a character. Her attention to detail in creating compelling characters is so captivating. I hope to see on her on stage one day!

And who doesn’t love Wolverine, I mean Hugh Jackman! He is a superhuman that can just do about anything (sing, dance and act). I really saw his artistry in his live show. There is nothing that this multi-talented man cannot do (with or without his claws). He would definitely be someone I would to love to work with one day.

Qu.8. What is your advice for up and coming performers like yourself?

The well-being of an artist is so important. Surround yourself with likeminded people. Go out and do things that inspire you and make you feel alive.

Collaborate with others and create your own magic. Don’t give up and believe in yourself. No one is in competition with you.

Have FUN (now) and enjoy the ride!

Qu.9. What would your dream project be and why?

Be a in live action film as a female heroine doing my own stunts, fight scenes, and get to play with weapons and just generally kicking ass! That would just be so much fun!!!

It is time for more female hero stories to be told.

Writers Actors Talk about diversity and change with Joy Hopwood, Alice Pung and Aileen Huynh

Joy Hopwood’s interview with Michael Wang.

Video link below

  Writers – Actors Talk (documentary) 8 mins

 

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DOCUMENTARY DIRECTED BY MICHAEL WANG.

The purpose was to create something engaging, creative and shareable that would explore themes which were important and timeless. To better inform young Australians growing up of who came before them and what lessons they can learn from those who came before them. Recognising how paths in life can be challenged and different ways pitfalls can be managed to become successful in the performance arts, publication and film/TV industry.

Michael Wang is an online digital marketer who is born and raised in Melbourne. Working at his own consultancy Marketandpress.com he creates engaging video and advertising campaigns helping businesses improve their growth. For all this work is geared towards fulfilling his greater life’s purpose of becoming a feature-length filmmaker. He is a budding filmmaker who creates unique engaging stories and pieces of content and regularly enjoys uploading them to his personal portfolio at Huristic.com

A Very Lovely thanks to the Guest Speakers: Aileen Huynh, Joy Hopwood & Alice Pung.

Produced by the Victorian Multicultural Commission in Association with Swinburne University.
Special thanks to the team: Director Of Photography Jake Evans. Advisors Vincent Giarrusso, Helen Kapalos for you guidance.

Working with Us:
Michael Wang – Michael@MarketandPress.com
https://www.instagram.com/huristic/
https://www.facebook.com/huristic.com.au/

Jake Evans (jake_evans16@hotmail.com)

Joy Hopwood – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd7E7HS4wYqGKrqisPGnHaA
https://www.instagram.com/joyhouseproductions/

Aileen Huynh – sydney@hansencreative.com.au

Helen Kapalos – https://www.multicultural.vic.gov.au/about-us/commissioners

https://www.instagram.com/multiculturevic/

Vincent Giarrusso – http://www.swinburne.edu.au/health-arts-design/staff/profile/index.php?id=vgiarrusso

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with Monica Sayers

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Monica Sayers, is an Australian-Chinese actress and yoga teacher who has worked extensively in different performance mediums over the past 15 years in Australia, the UK and Ireland. She has worked on a number of television series including Love My Way, All Saints, Home and Away, The Clinic (Ireland) and The Royal (UK) and Sydney Theatre Company’s Australian Graffiti and Chimerica and is currently starring in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Hay Fever. 

JOY: What is your cultural background?

MONICA: Chinese with dash of Incan blood! My great grandfather was part Chinese and South American.

JOY: When and where did you graduate?

MONICA: I studied The Journey at Actors Centre Australia in 1998, before graduating from the NIDA acting course in 2004.

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JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MONICA: My mother Barbara was a very big role model in my life, as were my 2 grandmothers, May See and Lily.

Barbara sang in talent quests, was a model for fashion house, Mr Simons, and met my father whilst singing in the band called Parker. They fell in love and became a duo, playing in RSL clubs, cabaret venues and cruise ships. I grew up watching my mum perform regularly whilst holding down a full time job and run a household – I thought she was Superwoman! She was creative, witty, charismatic, yet she was down-to-earth and pragmatic.

My grandmother May See was an extraordinary woman of strength and dedication to her family’s survival during challenging times in China and Hong Kong. She had learnt to speak English at a young age – an invaluable tool utilized time and time again throughout her life. She fought tooth and nail to protect her kids and mother from the Communist party and was courageous and daring in her efforts. Her memoirs have been published by my aunt – Phoebe Sayers, a book called ‘Tomorrow is Another Trial’ a truly unbelievable recount of May See’s journey and her mother’s (my great grandmother’s) life.

My grandmother Lily was the happiest person I ever met! She would smile and laugh mid sentence and just light up a room with her little cackle. She was an animated storyteller and very expressive and emotional. She could cry at the drop of a hat and was soooo in the moment – she could never hold a grudge for very long. She was always the first to laugh at herself and not take things too seriously.

I cherish all that I learnt from these three women and miss them all everyday.

JOY: What made you want to get into the industry?

MONICA: Seeing my parents doing their cabaret act over my childhood and into my young adult life, it made me think having a career in the entertainment industry was possible and not out of the ordinary. Sure they had other day jobs and needed to juggle parenting, but they just made it work. When my sister was born, they stopped doing the tours and settled down in Sydney, but continued to perform.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MONICA: I studied music, art and drama in high school; I was in the choir and I used to learn piano, ballet and jazz dancing. I took singing lessons – opera as well as contemporary. I did TV commercials and catalogue modelling. There was no way I was ever going down a different path really – but I made sure to get a few back up jobs to keep the bank balance (and my father!) happy. In my late teens, I joined an extras agency and did some time on Heartbreak High. It grew from there.

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JOY: Do you think there have been positive changes in the industry in regards to stereotype casting or do you think we still have a long way to go?

MONICA: I think in some areas we are making great steps forward to balancing out stereotypes but I also feel, because we do have those characters that are based on real people, it’s hard to break the mould. I think what’s important here is there’s nothing wrong with using stereotypes, so long as they don’t stay confined in that box. Let there be more information about the character come through – something that you might not expect from them. What I find interesting is the thing you’d least expect from something that looks a certain way. Not only do the audience recognise those stereotypes, but I think the wider community can learn from them too. There’s still a way to go yet but certainly heading in the right direction.

JOY: How do you think diversity can be improved in the industry?

MONICA: Seeing people for their talent and skill and not for the colour of their skin, the sound of their accent, or the frizz of their hair.

JOY: What is your breakthrough role?

MONICA: I played Calpurnia in the satirical spoof Dead Caesar at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2007’s second season; directed by the amazing and passionate Tamara Cook, written by the Chaser team, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen. It was a hilarious piece and I got to sing on top of a baby grand piano!

JOY: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years time?

MONICA: I would love to try a hand in directing and possibly producing. Definitely still acting, perhaps in something of my own.

JOY: What advice do you have for future up and coming actors?

MONICA: Keep at it, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, find a way to make it work if this is why you live and breathe. Also, stay healthy, keep fit and sane (because it’s an insane business and world!) and have a laugh on a regular basis. Oh, and be super nice to stage management and crew – they are our rocks!! No one wants to work with a diva or an ass and word gets around quick so play nice people! 🙂 Also keep a healthy portion of reality on your plate – it’s easy to get swept away when things are flying high or to spiral into a black hole and not know how to climb out. Remember you are not defined by your job or a single review or lack of auditions or the number of awards you win! For me, acting is part of my life – a big part – but I know I need a balanced perspective to be able to have longevity in the industry and there are natural ups and downs. Be prepared. Take action and find other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

 

Photos by Joe Chan & Susan Le Strange.

Interview with Australian actor Belinda Jombwe about her new role

Belinda Jombwe studied at NIDA and is known for her outstanding theatre work in Black Jesus (Bakehouse Theatre) as Eunice Ncube, Beth in Samson (Belvoir) and Winnie in My Wonderful Day (Ensemble Theatre Co) and many more. She’s working in an upcoming Australian feature film, The Casting Game (directed by Pearl Tan).

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Qu.1. How did you start your acting career?

I have always had a love for the arts, particularly acting. From a young age I was heavily involved in drama classes inside and outside of school. When I graduated from year 12 I moved to Sydney on a whim to pursue acting as a career. I studied performance at Sydney Uni, and was involved in a lot of fringe theatre at the Australian Theatre for Young People and New theatre. What started my professional career was the opportunity I had at Ensemble theatre in ‘My Wonderful Day’ to play Winnie. The ball kind of got rolling from there. To this day it’s one of the most memorable ensembles and productions I have ever been in.

Qu.2. Who were your role models on TV/Film when you were growing up and why?

There are many actors who I found inspirational growing up and continue to find inspirational. Actors like Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep and Denzel Washington to name a few. I find their dedication to their craft and their ability to transform into other worlds while maintaining an uncompromising sense of self quite amazing.

My ‘role models’ have been influential more in my adult years. Women like Viola Davis and Kerry Washington I look up to. Through their career progression and outspokenness in the industry, they have profoundly shaped the perspective I have of myself as an actor. They are strong, black women, and they inspire me to challenge myself and stereotypes, and it’s refreshing to see them play roles that are complex and not dependant on the way they look.  I think naturally we find role models in people who we strongly identify with. In people who motivate us to be better people.

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Qu.3. Do you think there are enough diverse roles for people of colour in Australian TV / Film?

Haha, No. I think there will be enough diverse roles for people of colour (and all other minority groups) in Australian TV/Film when diversity isn’t even a thing. When TV and film reflects our unique and multifaceted society and where diversity on TV/film becomes just a way of life. We have a long way to go, but I’m happy that we are going in the right direction. I think it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to continually improve this. Every person has a way in which they can make diversity more mainstream. Casting agents, writers, networks, producers, actors and audiences can all contribute to making diversity more mainstream by the choices they make and what they choose to accept.

Qu.4. What would your ideal role be and why?

I always have trouble answering this question. I don’t  have an ideal role in terms of the ‘type’ of person I would like to play. As ultimately, I believe all characters I play reveal a unique aspect of myself. Any role in which I get to explore, play and have a positive impact is ideal.

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Qu.5. What’s your next exciting project?

The Casting Game. A film written by Joy Hopwood and directed by Pearl Tan. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s hilarious, and there is a great team behind it.

Qu.6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Passionate about life, family and friends. Ambitious to learn and grow.

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The Casting Game (directed by Pearl Tan) will be premiering on Sunday, September 10th at Hoyts Mandarin Centre, closing the annual Joy House Film Festival, Level 3, 65 Albert Ave, Chatswood NSW 2067.

 

Interview with Michelle Lim Davidson about Australian Films, television & diversity.

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  1. What made you want to do acting as a career?

I started dance lessons when I was five & had a keen interest in singing too. Even though I was up on stage dancing in competitions almost every weekend I was extremely shy. Acting started for me when parents sent me to drama lessons to ‘bring me out of my shell’. It worked and I feel in love with acting. I never in a million years thought I would be an actress.

  1. What were the challenges you found when you started?

I graduated from WAAPA in 2010. At my graduation showcase I had some industry professionals tell me ‘As an asian girl you’ll never work on television, it’s not us it’s the networks they just won’t hire you’ and ‘You should learn karate if you want to have a career on film’. I was shocked, this may sound completely naive but during my time at drama school I was never aware that my ethnicity could possibly limit my future employment. Ironically I booked my first job on television and there was no karate required.

  1. Who were your role models growing and why?

I honestly can’t remember having specific role models growing up, I didn’t have any people in particular that I idolised. However there was a lot of people growing up who supported and encouraged me to believe in myself. I wouldn’t be where I am today without people like my dance teachers, high school drama teachers, my family & friends guiding and supporting me.

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4.What is your career highlight (or highlights?) & Why?.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on a diverse range projects. One highlight is being a presenter on Play School. I had one mother tell me her daughter was watching Play School & had never seen an Australian/Asian woman on tv. She was so excited & said‘Mummy she has the same eyes as me, one day i’m going to be on tv like Michelle’. It’s so amazing to hear your work can encourage & inspire a little girl who just wanted to see someone like her on the T.V.

  1. What do you think about Colourblind casting in Australia?

In my 6 years of being a professional actress I have witnessed many excellent changes in colourblind casting. For me i’ve never understood why it’s not just common sense to reflect the diversity of our society on stage and screen, it seems so straightforward in my mind. I hope in years to come this is no longer an issue. For now we need to continue to fight for diversity until we see equality for all who work in this industry.

  1. What do you think about the diversity issue in Australian TV/ Film / Theatre?

I like to remain positive about the diversity issues in our industry for I truly believe change is happening. I am also grateful for all the people who have campaigned for change over many years so artists like myself in recent years have had better opportunities to work in this industry. We still have a long way to go but i’m positive that we can continue to move forward. There is a keen and vigorous discussion around diversity in the industry which is exciting to be a part of. I find initiatives such as the Equity Diversity Committee very encouraging and inspiring and I would like to continue to be part of the change.

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  1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? (What do you want to achieve?).

This is a tricky question to answer for me. I haven’t thought about what i’m doing tomorrow let alone if 5 years time. I’m very much take each day as it comes along. I hope I still have to opportunity to act in tv/film/theatre. I hope I can venture overseas to the USA and challenge myself as an actress. I would like to continue to grow and become a better artist and I hope I’m doing an interview in the future about how diversity in the Australian entertainment industry is about how diversity in the Australian entertainment industry is no longer an issue.

Photos courtesy of Michelle Lim Davidson – Play School (ABC), Utopia, Goldstone

Interview with Takaya Honda (The Family Law/ Play School) and now Neighbours!

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Takaya Honda is an Australian stage and screen actor. He’s known for his role as Klaus Thomson in the 2016 comedy TV series, The Family Law , Play School and now Neighbours.

He was born in Canberra, but moved to Sydney at a young age and attended Sydney school Barker College graduating in 2005. He then attended the College Of Fine Arts (UNSW) in 2006 studying a Bachelor of Digital Media before transferring to the University of Technology Sydney in 2007 to study a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (MediaArts and Production) which he graduated from on the 29th April 2011.

JOY: Congratulations on landing a regular role for Neighbours. Please tell us briefly about the whole casting process.

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TAKAYA: The audition process began with a self test. I had originally been sent the sides for the role of my twin, Leo but was able to get my hands on the sides for David from a friend, filmed both and sent them through to casting. About two weeks after that I got a call back and had to fly down to Melbourne. For the call back I had to prepare for both roles, so had to know both scenes and they also sent a scene through between the two brothers and I had to learn both roles in that as well. The callback was with about 7 others, all of varying Asian mixes, we were called in at different points to either play the scenes either with the actors playing the roles opposite (in this case Zoe Cramond and Matt Wilson) or one of the other auditionees and we were at the studios for about 4-5 hours. About two weeks after that I had to fly back down to Melbourne again for another callback. This time we had to have all three previous scenes ready, as well as three new ones, two with another character in the show (who I don’t think I can name) and another between the two brothers, again learning both sides of the scenes. This call back had us down to the ‘final’ four. It was another lengthy audition lasting a few hours and with a lot of chop and changing between different combinations of people. In this callback we were fortunate to be able to run the scenes with the current cast members prior to going into the room, which was a huge help. After that callback it took around 2-3 weeks before I got the call from my agent saying I had gotten the role of David.
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JOY: Would you say Neighbours is your breakthrough role?
TAKAYA: It’s hard to say what my breakthrough role is, whether I’ve had it or even whether Neighbours is (will be) that. I feel it is something for others to judge. However I have been awarded some amazing experiences, from my first role (and audition) with A Gurls Wurld through to The Family Law, My Great Big Adventure, Play School and now Neighbours. To a degree I feel it’s hard for those of diverse backgrounds to have breakthrough roles in the same way as our caucasian acting brethren. I feel that the opportunities I have had would have opened more doors to a caucasian actor than have been for me. But, I must be clear in saying that I am truly very grateful for these opportunities.
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JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

TAKAYA: Growing up I kinda wanted to do everything. I wanted to be the doctor, the lawyer and the fighter pilot and I came to realise that acting would allow me to play all of those things and more! I’ve also always had a passion for the visual – ever since I got my hands on a camera I have not been able to help myself but to try to capture the things I see around me.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?
TAKAYA: I had some fantastically supportive teachers at High School (Barker College), namely Damien Ryan and Terry Karabelas who really gave me an understanding of what Acting is and the reality of what a career in acting can be. Damien then invited me to perform with Sport For Jove Theatre Company where I have performed in a bunch of Shakespeare plays which lead to getting representation and the slog of years of working odd jobs with a peppering of Acting gigs. I’ve been a videographer/editor, photographer, light and sound rigging crew, cinema usher, web administrator, promotional model, casting assistant and the classic actor job – a bartender. I have done my best to keep my work as relevant as I could to the industry and am cherishing the time I am given now to be working as an actor full-time.
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JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?
TAKAYA: I think there is, the efforts that Neighbours are making are very positive and I do believe they are trying to do it the right way. With our characters, rather than be the two asian guys moving into Erinsborough, we are two Australians who have Japanese heritage and our storylines are like any other characters on the show, not ethnically specific, which is quite refreshing. We do not feel any pressure to be representatives for Japan or the immigrant experience – we just get to play within the world of our characters, which is rich with ‘Neighbours’ drama. The Family Law is another great example of a positive move within the industry and I hope that there are more opportunities like these ahead across the full gamut of Australian media.
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JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?
TAKAYA: Those who inspire me in the industry are those who give back to it, and the broader community. Those who use the platform of celebrity to increase the amount of joy in the world are really who I look up to. In terms of acting I could rattle off the usual suspects but to me the likes of Miranda Tapsell as seemingly the industries voice of diversity, Charlotte Nicdao for being a friend who is so incredible at articulating her wisdom not just to me but the broader public (even in the face of denigrating criticism), Waleed Aly for the reasoning he brings to arguments and when thinking towards the international industry, Seth and Lauren Rogen for their work on Alzheimer’s, Aziz Ansari for so cleverly integrating the struggle of diverse actors into ‘Master of None’ – I could go on, but these humans who have taken the gift of popularity and used it for something outside of themselves, and who work towards bettering us as a whole. These people inspire me.
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JOY: What do you want to achieve in the future?
TAKAYA: Everything. haha. I don’t know – it is so hard in this industry to predict or dictate your own career that for me I like to provide myself with options and be happy with whatever path appears to me. Even just a couple of weeks before auditioning for Neighbours I wouldn’t have thought that it would have been a part of my journey. So, I like to stay open and positive because you just never know.

Interview with Jeremy Fernandez about Diversity in Australian Media

Jeremy Fernandez grew up in Malaysia before his family migrated to Australia when he was 13. He is an Australian journalist and a television news presenter with ABC News 24. Fernandez joined theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation in 2000 working as a producer for ABC Local Radio. He has worked as a voice-over artist for Seven Network and has worked with CNN International in London, UK as a writer and a producer before joining ABC again in 2010. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy on behalf of The Equity Diversity Committee about Diversity in Australian Media.

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Who were your role models on TV / film when growing up here in Australia? 

Some of my earliest role models were actually teachers. I often wished to be as knowledgeable, articulate, patient, and generous as many of them were. Some of these early role models had grown-up poor, or disabled. Many were women. Some were gay, young, elderly, religious, atheist. And they had different skin colours. The diversity didn’t strike me as remarkable. It was only in my mid-teens that I noticed my reality was barely reflected on screen.

What gives you joy and satisfaction in your job each day?

I’m surrounded at the ABC, by some of the cleverest, most hardworking people in the industry. So I’m regularly star-struck.

I love the varied nature of my work: One day I’m writing & researching; And the next, I’m on air with rolling news for 3 hours.

I get the biggest buzz out of breaking news, particularly on location as a presenter and reporter. Interacting with viewers in real life, or on social media, is great. For all that’s changing in this industry nothing beats face-to-face time.

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Did you experience any barriers trying to break into Australian journalism & broadcasting?

I consider myself very lucky to do the work I do. Of course, there were those who told me not to go barking up the wrong career tree. Most of them weren’t being mean-spirited. They wanted me to know that this was not an industry known for its diversity. I came into it with both eyes open, and tried my luck anyway. I will however, admit to being dogged about proving wrong, the guy who told me, “Don’t worry. There’s always SBS”. I love SBS, of course. But it shouldn’t be the only source of media employment for the large fraction of Australians who were born overseas.

Do you think there’s enough diverse representation in Australian media / TV / film? (If not, what changes would you like to see?)

I’ve had a great run with the ABC. But even ol’ Aunty will admit there’s work to do, as there is in much of corporate Australia. I think we need more indigenous voices & faces in the mainstream media. I’d also like to see diversity understood more broadly. Intersectionality between race, gender, sexuality, disability, wealth, and age is more than we can necessarily see with the naked eye. But it harbours a tremendous amount of valuable lived experience.

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What advice would you like to give to up and coming journalists and for those breaking into television?

Don’t do it if you’re just looking to get your mug on screen. It gets old very quickly. Learn to write well. Develop an eye for detail. Be OK with shift work. Be inquisitive- ask the ‘dumb questions’ everyone else is afraid to ask. Be respectful of your subjects & audience, even if you disagree with them. Dream big, but also be honest with yourself. Define success your own way. And don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Fernandez (ABC TV)

Logies 2016 a big win for diversity

Last night was a big win for diversity at the 2016 Logie Awards (equivalent to the Emmy’s in USA). For over forty years we’ve witnessed the Logies being so white, however this year we saw more diversity with Lee Lin Chin and Waleed Aly being nominated for gold. The results surprised us all with the Gold Logie being won by a Muslim Australian panel host of The Project Waleed Aly!

Waleed’s victory speech was filled with emotion, considering the backlash he and other contender of colour Lee Lin Chin received before this awards night. His victory speech was a great opportunity to highlight the need for diversity in Australian TV, and his win is a step closer towards this cause.“Do not adjust your sets … there’s nothing wrong with the picture,” he told the audience at the Palladium Ballroom, Crown Towers, in Melbourne. “I’m sure there’s an Instagram filter you can use to return things to normal.”

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He said the award mattered because people with names like Mustafa and Dimitri had struggled to find jobs in an industry dominated by white faces like himself. Mustafa went up to him and confessed that he had to change his name in order to be accepted in the industry.

“To Dimitri and Mustafa and all the other people with unpronounceable names like Waleed, I want to say one thing: that is that I am incredibly humbled you would even think to invest in me that way.

“But I’m also incredibly saddened by it, because the truth is you deserve more numerous and more worthy avatars than that.

“I don’t know if and when that’s going to happen but if tonight means anything … that is the Australian public, our audience, as far as they’re concerned there is absolutely no reason that can’t change.”

It was finally a great realisation for many, that Australia is no longer a white nation (on screen), but it’s a nation of diversity and social cohesion. Congratulations to Waleed Aly for breaking the so called ‘white’ stereotype and may this be the critical step forward for change and diversity on screen which is so needed in this country, in order to feel that we all belong, together.

 

Youtube / pictures courtesy of Channel 9