Asian-Australian writer Michelle Law hits out at 'extremely tone deaf' comedy poster

Writer Michelle Law says a poster, right, advertising a comedy show as part of the BrisAsia festiva is 'tone deaf'. Source: Twitter @ms_michellelaw

Asian-Australian writer Michelle Law has hit out at a comedy event poster featuring headshots of 'Brisbane's best Asian comedians' floating in a bowl of wonton soup.

This article was originally published on 1 February 2018 and later updated.

An Asian culture festival has been accused of cultural misappropriation after producing a "Wonton of Laughs" poster advertising "Brisbane's best Asian comedians".

The comedy event is part of the BrisAsia Festival, which aims to showcase "traditional and contemporary Asian arts and cultural events" and runs from February 10 to March 4 this year.

On the poster, the headshots of comedians Ashwin Segkar, Ting Lim, Red Simbulan, MJ Wong and Suraj Kolarkar appear to float in a bowl of what looks like wonton soup.

Asian-Australian writer Michelle Law, who is one of the writers of SBS On Demand's 'Homecoming Queens', took issue with the poster on Twitter.

"OK WHICH WHITE IDIOT DID THIS (sic)," she wrote with a photograph of the poster.

Law followed up the tweet with: "I've done stuff for BrisAsia in the past and it always chills me to my goddamn core how it's run by white people. Never again. Unless things change."

Some of her 9000-plus followers agreed, with one saying: "On behalf of all white designers I sincerely apologise for this abomination."

In response to Law's first tweet, another person wrote: "The same idiot who came up with the term BrisAsia I'm guessing. Where's it being held next year? OrienToowoomba? ChinaTownsville? PorkBundaberg?"

Law told SBS News the poster was "extremely tone deaf".

"I don't understand how it ever got approved. It looks like something that has come straight out of the 90s," she said.

Law said it was 2018 and if there was an Asian-Australian part of the team she wondered how it had been approved.

"There are so many elements that are problematic," she said.

"Not all the comedians are Chinese and they've used a wonton soup and stereotypically Asian font."

Law said she knew BrisAsia organisers were trying to do "something good" but the poster "totally misses the mark".

"Lumping all Asian people together into one little box, that's not what Asia is. And if they're celebrating Asia, shouldn't it be about a broader sense of what Asia means?"

Law said a good step for BrisAsia organisers and others who are putting on events that have a cultural aspect was to have consultants who were from that culture or background.

"If you don't know people from that background that's also problematic," she said.

Law said it was great for that BrisAsia celebrated Brisbane's connection to Asia and they were trying to make everyone feel more included but "they're trying to make it more inclusive for white people".

"I - as an Asian person - looking at this, why would I go to something that I find deeply offensive?"

SBS News has contacted the Brisbane City Council and All-Inn Brewing Co in relation to the matter.

Focus Trivia and Comedy, who were listed as an organiser on the poster, did not wish to comment on the issue.


UPDATE: BrisAsia producer Laura Luck contacted SBS News after this article was published. Her comments are printed below. 

"BrisAsia was started by an Asian producer in 2013 as a platform for Asian creatives to have an opportunity to produce events for Asians," Ms Luck told SBS News. 

"It is now run by various different factions of the council," she said in a statement, saying this meant more non-Asian people were now involved in the running of the festival.

Ms Luck said it was important to look at how well such festivals were represented by organisers from the culture the festival claims to represent but "for the festival to come under fire this year though, the first year the festival has actually branched out to Asian communities and is also majority run by Asian producers in the main tender area, is unfortunate because this is actually the first year that this festival reached a real Asian audience".

Ms Luck said she had, in the past, "heard of artists being picked by white producers by how Asian-sounding their name is, and these behaviours definitely need to be called out. But on the whole, having worked with this festival my experience has been good."

"It is important to not write off the whole festival on the basis of one bad personal experience," she said, "or even worse, one poorly thought out comedy poster". 

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