There has been ongoing debate as to whether Australian television shows manage to represent our diverse cultural landscape. The media play an intrinsic role in influencing public perceptions of race, so it’s clear that a multicultural society should have a multicultural media. Throughout this debate there have been numerous references to the ‘whiteness’ of shows such as Neighbours and Home & Away, and criticism of shows such as Underbelly, for casting Middle-Eastern actors to play the bad guys. Whilst I agree that all too often, the foreign actor is cast as the criminal as opposed to the doctor, it is worth remembering, that the show Underbelly was based on a true story, and in the actual story, the ‘bad guys’ were of Middle Eastern descent, so perhaps it is time to hesitate that particular example.
It would also seem that diversity schemes are not the answer. Instating quotas for ethnic minorities in the media, and handing out roles to non-white Australians purely for point of difference can ultimately can result in even more tokenism, and prioritizing political correctness over talent. Instead we do need to think clearly about how different roles are distributed, moving past the ‘stereotypical, caricatured roles such as the wog criminal’ and the general “baddies” and casting people of different ethnicities into those everyday roles such as doctors and police officers. Recently, Neighbours has introduced an Indian-Australian family (though sadly the online response was so flooded with racist slurs so ubiquitous through our nation that the network had to go on a comment-deleting spree) My Kitchen Rules had a similar story.
There is still a long way to go, and we do need to find more creative ways of celebrating our vibrant mix of cultures in our mainstream media. Though it is worth acknowledging the small triumphs so far. Over the past decade we have seen the award-winning Woolworths advert featuring Greek couple Maria and Stavros. Shot completely in Greek, casting a playful nod to those (stereotypical, though in a loving way) Greek grandparents we all wish we had. We have borne witness to television triumphs such as Salam Cafe, which ‘encapsulates the shift in representation of Australian Muslims’ by making light of mainstream misrepresentations of Islamic culture and reducing racial sentiments of ‘the other’. Shows such as The Straights, The Slap, The Message Stick and East West 101 also portray a diverse Australia, paving the way for a multicultural media in the future. While we aren’t fully there yet, but it does seem that we are making baby steps.