Steven Oliver's series is changing on-screen romance with his funny and heartwarming portrayal of gay Aboriginal love.
By
Emily Nicol

1 Mar 2019 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2019 - 3:33 PM

In the overall scope of fictional content, very few gay romances are central storylines on-screen. For Aboriginal representation, it's even less— if at all.

However, writer, actor and comedian Steven Oliver is changing that with a modern look on love and life in his web series, soon to be premiered on television, A Chance Affair

With the help of Screen Australia's 'Blackspace' initiative, Oliver, a descendant of Kukuyalanji, Waanyi, Gangalidda, Woppaburra, Bundjalung, Biripi mob, has not only written, but also stars in a 5-part series that takes a unique and scarcely portrayed look at gay Aboriginal relationships.

"When I first applied for the initiative, [my concept] was coming from a very silly place, like the Tiddas characters I had done for Black Comedy," he told NITV.

"But then I thought, you know what? Black gay people, we deserve a more honest, more grounded story. So, I went back to make it a lot more personal, a lot more grounded in reality," he said. 

What Oliver has gone on to create is a sensitive and touching look at love between two gay black men, as well as the love between friends and ultimately self-love. It's a story all imbued with his trademark humour and whip-smart one-liners.

Set in a small bar where amateur entertainers perform original songs, Oliver takes on the role of Chance, a hopeless romantic who struggles with unrequited feelings for his straight best friend Jeff (played by fellow comic, Bjorn Stewart).

Actor, Guy Simon plays Lucky who comes on the scene and takes the role of Chance's love interest. 

Black gay people, we deserve a more honest, more grounded story.

In a supporting role, Logie award-winning actress Shari Sebbens gives a hilarious performance as Aviante, a diva who loves the limelight and a Beyoncé tune. Oliver says he was more excited for the audience to see Sebbens use her comedic chops than he was for his own part, often having to look away when filming so as not to laugh. 

"[She] did an amazing job," he recounts.

"It was a totally different side of her that I don't think people had gotten to see yet. The director was holding the script up in front of her face, and Shari had to sing with her eyes closed, because we just couldn't look at each other when she was doing it. It was just such a blast," he said. 

In a different creative turn, Oliver has used his writing in the series to portray a much-needed representation of Aboriginal relationships that is inspired by his desire to write for and about his own community. 

When talking about his own path and journey as a gay black man, he says that it wasn't always easy.

Growing up in Townsville, Far North Queensland, it wasn't until moving to Perth to study that he started to embrace his sexuality. However, living far from home, he found himself using his new stomping ground as an escape. 

"I was over there by myself studying, and I was going to gay bars and stuff like that.

"[But] I was living the two lives, where I had to go back home and I'd be back in the closet. When I'd go back over to Perth, I'd be out again," he shared. 

Oliver says that it was a quote from openly-gay singer Melissa Etheridge that inspired him to take the step towards telling his family.

"My mother and sister were coming to Perth. I pictured me walking down the street with them and then running into my gay friends and them finding out that way.

"I'd heard Melissa Etheridge in an interview say, 'If people aren't there for you afterwards, they were never there for you in the first place.'

And I realised that my family wouldn't abandon me. That was when I came out. My family have been nothing but supportive ever since," he said.

Aside from his living and learning from his own experiences in his younger years, Oliver says that he is also now encouraged by fans who say they can relate to his characters.

"I was recently at the Garma Festival and I had a woman come up to me," he explained.

"The very first thing she said to me was, 'I'm sure you get this all the time...'; I thought she was going to ask me for a selfie or call me the S-word that I get so often called from Black Comedy.

"Then, she said, 'I just wanted to thank you, my 14-year-old son was threatening self-harm because he was getting bullied at school, which I didn't know about ... But he came to me with your videos and said, 'mum, this is who I am, and these videos make me proud of who I am'.'" 

The experience was an emotional one for Oliver, who says it was tough growing up and hearing things that are said about gay people in often horrible and negative ways. He says the way many deal with it at a young age is to revert back into yourself.

"I get incredibly sad because there are still children who go through this thing of being bullied because of who they are."

 

"I think in a way, I go back to me as a 14-year-old child, as well. I get incredibly sad because there are still children who go through this thing of being bullied because of who they are.

"You try to hide yourself. You don't want anybody to know who you are.

"But now, I've found myself in a position where I'm able to give, not even just younger people, but even older gay blackfellas who have never had the chance to see themselves represented on TV.

I'm lucky enough to be in that position now. I try to be mindful of that when I write and realise the responsibility and obligation that comes not just to my black community, not just to my gay community, but also to my gay, black community."

Of his future creative endeavours, Oliver says that he only desires to keep doing what he knows best and make sure that his writing is coming from an honest place so that it will always resonate with his audience.

"One of the first things I learned about writing is to always write what you know, because then, you come from an authentic place."

When I write and realise the responsibility and obligation that comes not just to my black community, not just to my gay community, but also to my gay, black community.

"I don't have a desire to play any different nationalities or any other sexualities. It might sound boring, and it might not make me an actor.

But they're the stories I'm interested in telling. I know rather than me giving a perception of something, I could give an authentic view of my life." 

Whether it's poetry, musical comedy or romance, Oliver intends to remain completely himself.

"[My work] always centres around my identity and what I know as a black, gay man. We need more of those stories out in the world, so I'll always be writing those until the cows come home, I think. Until the gay, black cows come home." 

A Chance Affair has its television premiere this Sunday, 8.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34). Catch up will be available after broadcast on SBS On Demand.  

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