Casting a call for diversity

Another call for commercial television to increase its multicultural representation is issued today, this time in an excellent article by journalist Melinda Houston in the Sunday Age.

She notes audiences show no indiction of shunning shows with strong ethnic diversity, citing the hits of Underbelly, Australian Idol and The Biggest Loser:

For a nation where 90 per cent of the population can trace their lineage to somewhere else, Australian television is strangely coy about depicting reality. With the noteworthy exception of City Homicide (where indigenous actor Aaron Pedersen forms part of the force without comment) and, of course, Underbelly, the top-rating local shows of 2008 were intensely Anglo in their casting. Or, as Britain’s racial equality chief, Trevor Phillips, put it last year, “hideously white”.

Yes, mainstream Australian television is so bizarrely and inappropriately Anglo-centric even the Poms have started to notice. When Phillips initiated an inquiry into racial depictions on television following a shameful exchange on Britain’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, two of the series singled out for criticism by English viewers were Neighbours and Home and Away.

Neighbours producer Susan Bowers responded by saying she was aware of the problem, and had been working to get more ethnic diversity into the cast, starting with extras, progressing to walk-ons and small speaking roles, and in 2009 introducing a young Korean actor, Hany Lee, as part of the permanent cast.

So there you go. Erinsborough will now have one Asian resident. Unlike every other suburb in Melbourne, which has about one squillion. Not to mention the Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Indians and Pakistanis, Arabs and Africans who have long constituted the Melbourne most of us see when we look out the front door rather than at the box.

As the rest of the article (which you can read here) notes, it’s SBS where the ethnic diversity remains hig.

Idol and So You Think You Can Dance remain standouts on TEN. ABC’s The Librarians is another contender. Some game shows sustain visible representation, yet only a handful of News programmes have even considered this issue in any tangible way.

Even US shows like Survivor and, particularly The Amazing Race, have addressed casting issues. Grey’s Anatomy prides itself on casting “blind,” casting roles on skill not race.

There are other issues in casting that often remain low on the agenda, depending on the genre, including: seniors, disabled, gay and lesbian and even women co-hosts are frequently seen in secondary hosting roles whenever beside a male -why is that?

Which other shows would you nominate as delivering diversity, or is this a non-issue to you?

Source: The Age


  1. I think that it would be great to have more diversity on our shows. However, I think cast has to be chosen carefully. We can’t just dump some new immigrant with an accent and their traditional clothing onto Home and Away or Neighbours. Asutralian shows should cast people that were born in Australia, but have different backgrounds. For example, a person born in Australia, but whose parents are from Sri Lanka. This way, no one will complain about the show being stereotype. Afterall, most young teens, whether they be black or white, usually speak with an australian accent. Also, there are so many interracial couples in australia and around the world these days, maybe this should be shown as well.

    Or to solve the problem, just axe both Home and Away and Neighbours -they are both uselesss shows anyway.

  2. To me, forcing a certain percentage of actors on a show to be “non-white” is racism in itself. The risk is that less talented people get the job just to make up the percentage.

    I honestly have never noticed on TV whether there are people from mixed backgrounds or not as I see people as people regardless of skin colour, accent, etc.

    This is yet another story in the media unecessarily bringing up potentially racist issues almost as bad as the story in the news last week of the guy who wants to ban the burka on Muslim women for what he calls “security reasons”.

  3. Here we go again, having to kow tow to appease the ethnic population of Australia just because we aren’t diverse enough, though they fail to recognise shows such as The Secret Life of Us, The Circuit, East West 101, Water Rats, Kick, RAN and the list goes on.

    Well shock horror to the ethnic populations but Australia is actually made up of mostly white Anglo-Saxon men and women. Not Indians, not Middle East, not Asians.

    Not to mention there are only a small amount of ethnic actors within the already small and struggling Australian acting industry. Australian television will die the day we have to purposely cast an ethnic Australian just to please the ethnic minorities. Which I feel may have already started…..

    I have no problem with ethnic Australian actors on Australian television, as long as they can act and are suitable for the role.

    Though what is troubling is there are far more important things going on in the world at the moment and people think this is a priority? Well with the current state of affairs they won’t have to worry much longer when we cannot afford to produce any new Australian television shows making their mission defunct.

  4. I think it’s an issue… however its only minor. The bigger issue is the lack of Aussie made drama.

    I would like to see more gay/lesbian characters on shows. Not screaming queens, not short-haired lesbians, but a character that just happens to be gay.

    That’ll be along time coming I think.

  5. Regarding seeing a white person on Indian or Asian television, they show many programs from America, UK and some Aussie childrens programs so there are many Europeans on Indian television. There’s hardly any Europeans in Asian made programs because they don’t have many Europeans there but they do represent the different races like Punjab, Urdu, Tamil etc. In Australia there’s roughly 200,000 Indian Australians. I don’t like producers to choose a cast based on race but there would at least have been a few good ethnic actors in Australia considering there is always ethnic talent on Aus Idol and other reality shows.

    Most of the time I don’t think they avoid casting different races because of xenephobia, there probably are no ethnicities other than anglo available to cast at the time of production, or it is inappropriate like casting an Indian in a main role for Underbelly but maybe there are some programs which are avoiding minorities on purpose because of their political stance.

    I migrated to Australia but have been here for about 20 years and as the article says, there have been many multicultural shows in Australia like Acropolis Now, Greeks On The Roof which reflect the old wave migrant viewpoint. I’d personally like to see a comedy with Indians or other new wave migrants like Sudanese in the same vein as Acropolis Now.

  6. takingbackjustin

    Couldn’t think of one Australian primetime show that is actually diverse (as far as city homicide goes, having one aboriginal actor is not what i would call a shining example).

    On the other hand US shows do a much better than we are currently. Lost is a prime example. With many diverse roles on offer, including main characters. African-American, Chinese-American, Australian, English, Scottish, Nigerian, Iraqi, Korean and Latin-American.

  7. No surprise, people complain of shows not having enough diversity, yet when they do, they are accuse of being tokenistic. And if the balance goes “too far” there will be accusations of “political correctness gone mad”. You can already see these attitudes in the comments above.

  8. Angelo on H&A is a horrible character it took me ages to figure out he was Angelo because of his name, lol. I think Neighbours was OK with its diversity they had the Rosie & Carmella.. but they are both gone now!

    Anyway they defiantly do need more female hosts with some guts not bloody push overs like Mel and Kim on the morning shows, the amount of crap the male hosts say and they just accept it and pull a face instead pisses me off, I wouldn’t take that crap (e.g Koshie’s jokes)

  9. These people honestly don’t care about racial diversity, they are just looking to stir a bit,

    I mean would they be happy if there were no caucasians on aussie tv? Would that really solve the problem?

    The thing is that the majority of australia is still caucasian, and thus its media reflects that. These people would have a point if australia’s television was showing other races/ ethnic groups of people in a bad light, because that would be classed as racism. But simply having more white people than chinese/ black, is not racist.

  10. Jezza of the city

    I think being ANTI anglo is deeply racist and calling something “hideously white” is racial vilification at its very worst. Everything evolves over time and programmes, personalities and characters should gain success purely on merit and nothing else. However they should be given the opportunity for a ‘fair go’.

    But please keep the PC lunatics locked up in the asylum.

  11. Watch a bit of american TV (ad breaks an all) and the first thing you notice is the different mix of people in their commercials, let alone the actual shows! All we seem to be selling to here is white folks! (Unless the ad calls for inspirational footage in which case you’ll see the stereotypical group of Aboriginal kids playing Aussie Rules!)

    Honestly commercials would be the first thing I’d clean up.

    Ten’s reality programs have always been ahead of the curve in respect of true representation, soaps are dead last with their whitebread world view – H&A kind of has a built in justification given it’s small town setting but Neighbours has absolutely no excuse.

  12. to tell the truth i couldn’t give a fat rats, there’s no reason that people that are not happy can’t just change the channel. if i went to another country and there were no whites on tv even though they were on the streets i would not complain.

    what people usually forget is that sometimes the plot restricts them, especially with shows like Packed to the Rafters obviously all of the rafters have to be the same race.

    i highly doubt that there will ever be such thing as an ethnic naturally introduced to a predominately white show. they will always be seen as a box ticked. thats the only thing i ever think of every time i see jai on home and away.

  13. Funny the choose to discuss City Homicide yet the cast photo shows 5 very anglo-saxon cast members standing next with Aaron Pederson. Very diverse!

  14. IMO it’s over blown by ‘do-gooders’, yes a person should be cast on their ability and not the color of their skin. That said more needs to be done to bring young people into acting from all cultures, this will then filter trough to TV and movies.

  15. Not the biggest issue, i mean this is australia and I don’t want to sound mean to people from other countries that are now living here, but they need to understand that in their countries they have a far greater majority of shows that have actors that come from their country as opposed to australia.

    We have quite a bit of choice for those other than caucasian aussies, there’s TVS in sydney, SBS (which does such a good job that the only show i’ve ever watched on it is john safran’s music jamboree), SBS World news, the 2 sbs digital radio stations (38 & 39). And the recently started NITV, which was an excellent idea and I can’t believe it’s taken this long to have an aboriginal tv station available nation-wide. There’s also late night languages on Channel NSW.

    To me, attempts for racial diversity have always seemed shallow in shows such as Amazing race and Survivor. Amazing race always seems to have just one token black couple, or a token asian couple. It’s as if to say ‘ok we’ve got that obligation out of the way’. Instead they should have a greater majority of non-caucasians.

  16. I honestly can’t think of another programme that displays diversity. Perhaps Play School … but really it’s a bit sad if that’s the only Aussie show I can think of with a deaf presenter and other presenters of international backgrounds.

    I certainly don’t think it’s a non issue. As far as commercial news goes the only “ethnic” person I can think of is Helen Kapalos, who I’m assuming is of Greek ancestry. Even in advertisements we’re inundated with Anglo representation. You never see anyone of colour or ethnicity behind the counter in a Coles ad. It’s just really weird and certainly something that Australia needs to improve on – to display the same variety of race, sex, sexual orientation as you see in real life.

  17. SBS doesn’t do it’s job properly. Showing a few French movies on a Saturday night doesn’t really make it a multicultural broadcaster. Why do they waste money on shows like Top Gear Australia? It’s not what the channel was meant to be.

    And Channel Nine won’t be investing in culture any time soon. Just bogan programming all the way – Laddette to Lady, Wipeout Australia – awful, awful awful.

  18. I come from a lebanese background, and i havent got a problem with the way things are now. I rekon i wouldnt even notice if there was a “non-white” person in a show i was watching. I think the reason the cast of many of our aussie shows arnt ethnicly diverse, has more to do with maybe not being all that many people from different backgrounds willing to become actors

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