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. Gerrad – what did you want? a spear, loincloth underwear and a book of dream time stories ?

    Personally, I think this article has a good point. Although, with some other comments, it also rings true with the ‘cast the minority’ to get it out the way’ concept.

    As a Samoan ( Note: not all of us have the ability to excel at sport, or cause harm to others in dark alley ways, as some playground tales, media depictions and social circles may suggest) I’d love to see one of my fellow Polynesians (Jay Lagaia :D)as well as other minorities living in Australia, (although, some may argue they aren’t minorities, depending on where you live) have the opportunity to appear on our screens and become justified cast, instead of having to fill a quota, in order to silence others. But I keep in mind, that perhaps “minorities” may have other aspirations they’d rather pursue, other than acting.

    Perhaps the mechanics of the current system are too complex to change, not only in ‘soaps’ but in Australian media in general.

    Of course, the ability of a person to act should be the top of the priorities list, but i can’t help feel berated when all I may ever get offered are roles of security guards, bouncers, fat bullies/big eaters and “gangsta/sters/stahs <--- whatever way Gen Y may spell it.

  2. the sats speak for themselves…..Over 8 per cent of Australia’s population is Asian background, that is close to 2 million people and a significant segment of the population……..that’s not even including all the other ethnic backgrounds which make up our country…..Aussie TV, especially commercial is about 20 years behind….get with reality and start presenting the real Australia…..

  3. I find this article silly to be honest, as multicultural as this country is there is a majority of white folk in it. Depending on where you are in the country you’re more likely to find a unicorn than a non white person. It’s not like you’re running into an asian/black/middle eastern/whatever every second. Even in the middle of the apartment complex I live in about 10 minutes from Sydney CBD, with 80ish apartments I only run into a few folks that aren’t white (off the top of my head I can only recall 4). Basically this article isn’t any more representive of whats actually happening in reality than the show’s it’s speaking against.

  4. This is not just happening in TV dramas/ sopaies. What about renovation programs?

    I’ve watched basically every episode of Domesitc Blitz and not once have they done a reno for a non-Australian. Same goes with Backyard Blitz, and the house calls made in Better Homes and Gardens.

  5. lameboyadvance

    I agree with the site poll, a show shouldn’t have diversity just for the sake of it. If the show calls for a certain background, then do so. Don’t just include it because the skin tones aren’t varied enough. There’s nothing worse than altering a show just to make it more diverse (except to alter the show and include a crappy actor, if you’re going to add an actor, do it based on skill, not how ‘multicultural’ they are/look).

  6. The only thing worse than a TV show that is “hideously white” (I love that line) is a show that was predominately white who tries to score ‘cred’ by quickly squeezing in a character which is obviously there for the sole purpose of quieting the critics.
    It just looks forced and I feel has the opposite effect of what was originally intended.

    Definitely support a wider variety of characters – but it needs to be an organic introduction, and shows need to demonstrate an ongoing commitment – we’ll see how committed Neighbours is when we see how long this new character hangs around… I give it 6 months before its back to “white wash” again.

  7. now that i think about it, i guess most aussie shows don’t have much racial diversity, but i dont really care about it at all (im asian!) all that matters for me is an interesting story and good acting

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