“It's just an amazingly exciting team and an amazingly fascinating opportunity to learn about the South Sudanese culture here in Australia,” says Daina Reid, fresh from directing new SBS series Sunshine in Melbourne’s west. We caught up with her to ask about filming in Sunshine and racism in Australia. (We also asked how her work on The Netty Show influenced this basketball-themed series, but she just laughed and said, “Not at all!”)
You’ve shot Sunshine very differently to how we’re used to seeing the place.
I live in the western suburbs of Melbourne, and I find it very vibrant and culturally diverse, and sure, it has its industrial areas, but I wanted to shoot it with that warmth and with a sense of home to it. You often see, whenever something's industrial or it's on the wrong side of the tracks, it's all a bit grey and grim, and I did not want to do that. It is what it is. There are certain elements of that, but it's the way you shoot it, the warmth of the palette, all that kind of stuff. You're not casting any judgement on it – in fact, it's going, "This is home." It's how I feel when I go home to the western suburbs. There's a positive palette to it.
Do you see Sunshine as an Australian story, or more of a South Sudanese story?
Well, this is what's really interesting in our preconceived ideas about any other culture. These are young Australian people with Australian accents and you are telling an Australian story. It’s about what their experience is here. Of course, the culture of what has happened to them and their parents impacts on that story, but a lot of the characters' stories and the actors who play those characters have come here as babies. Australia is what they know and this is their experience in Australia.
During shooting, there was a lot of coverage of the Apex gang in Melbourne. Did that affect things on set?Everyone had been communicating about dealing with our stories and not getting involved in the beat-up sensationalised media part of it, which is not what our story is about at all. It's a very individual story. Of course, we’re always managing that stuff, but there'd been a lot of communication before that about what we were attempting to do.
It’s probably the main way we see African people in the media.
Sadly, I think that’s part of everyone's experience. You know, the South Sudanese people have got that coming at them all the time. And hopefully this is... When you start putting people’s stories on the screen and truly showing an individual's journey, that's when understanding starts to happen and it’s not just on the front page of the Herald Sun.
How do you think Australia will react to the series?
Choosing my words carefully... I hope they react well and open their eyes, but it's a beginning of a very long journey. I think there’s been a lot of negative press that is not what the actual community is about. So I hope that, as I say, the stories about these individuals will start to open the door for a greater understanding of the people and communities among whom we all are living. We are all living together.
It’s definitely a counterpoint to the media beat-up you mentioned.
It’s really interesting, I’m working on a project at the moment which also deals with race. Many years ago, Pauline Hanson would always talk about Asian cultures and now everyone's just forgotten about it. It becomes irrelevant. It becomes part of our culture. It becomes normal and fantastic, and we're all looking for the best pho. And that is going to happen again. It will become normal and it is frustrating that it can't start like that. But it's a journey and hopefully Sunshine is the beginning of that journey – the beginning of a journey towards understanding and compassion.
Sunshine will air over two big weeks, premiering Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 October at 8.30pm on SBS. You can watch an encore screening on SBS VICELAND at 9.30pm or stream it online on SBS On Demand.