• Benjamin Law with the cast of The Family Law. (SBS)
Benjamin Law reflects on why it’s still relatively rare to see Asian faces – or any non-white faces – on Australian TV.
By
Benjamin Law

10 Dec 2015 - 11:09 AM  UPDATED 10 Dec 2015 - 11:17 AM

Here’s a list of all the Asian-Australian people I remember seeing on TV growing up: Elizabeth Chong on Good Morning Australia; Cindy Pan on sex/life; Lee Lin Chin on SBS World News; Annette Shun Wah on Eat Carpet; Anthony Brandon Wong playing a victim of racism on Home & Away; the Chinese family on Neighbours who were accused of eating a dog; the Vietnamese dude on Heartbreak High who didn’t have many lines; and the Full Frontal comedian parodying the Vietnamese dude on Heartbreak High who didn’t have many lines. And that’s about it, really. If Pauline Hanson was right about Asians swamping Australia in the ‘90s, maybe she can take comfort in the fact that didn’t seem to extend to Australian TV.

In other multicultural countries like the US, Canada and UK, all-white TV shows would be rightly called out and pilloried

Skip forward a couple of decades and it’s still relatively rare to see Asian faces – or any non-white faces – on Australian TV, bar competitive reality shows like Masterchef, Australian Idol and X-Factor. (Turns out, singing and cooking are pretty democratic skills! Who knew?) In other multicultural countries like the US, Canada and UK, all-white TV shows would be rightly called out and pilloried, mainly because: one, citizens care about reflecting diversity on screen; and two, their industries use mechanisms, like quotas and diversity officers – to ensure that diversity.

Meanwhile, when another Australian comedy or drama launches with a predominantly or all-white cast, few people seem to notice. Local TV makers often argue their casting practices are colour-blind – that the people cast in the show are there because of merit. But Australian TV’s problem isn’t colour-blindness; it’s white-blindness, a condition where people don’t even register their TV show is more retina-searingly white than a Klan Rally at a yacht club.

It seems the Asians are finally here... in all their Australian glory

When we adapted The Family Law for TV, we didn’t set out to make a show about being Asian or Chinese, even though I love shows like that. This is a comedy about a dysfunctional Australian family who just happen to be Asian. At the same time, we’re aware that (like kung-fu comedy Maximum Choppage) we’re breaking new ground simply by having a cast of 90% Asian-Australian characters. For a country, where one in ten Australians identify as having significant Asian heritage, we figure it’s a reasonable corrective. Maybe Pauline Hanson was right. Your screens are being swamped – several years too late – and it begins now. So protect your daughters and your privilege, because it seems the Asians are finally here... in all their Australian glory. 

 

The Family Law starts Thursday 14 January on SBS.

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