• Miles Franklin Literary Award 2019 winner Melissa Lucashenko says she can name only two Indigenous people currenlty working as literary editors in the industry. (Belinda Rolland|Miles franklin Literary Award)Source: Belinda Rolland|Miles franklin Literary Award
Two emerging critics stepped aside from their newly appointed roles with Nine Entertainment this week in a show of solidarity with calls to increase representation of people of colour in Australia's media landscape.
Nadine Silva

28 Jun 2020 - 4:09 AM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2020 - 4:17 AM

Two critics stepped down from their newly appointed roles as critics with Nine Entertainment newspapers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald this week in a show of solidarity with calls for greater diversity in media.

Emerging book critics Jack Callil and Bec Kavanagh resigned on Monday citing the selection of a cohort of "all-white" critics failed to reflect the nations cultural and ethnic diversity.

The two were among a five person hire in May as part of a grant initiative between the Nine Entertainment newspapers grant, the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

In a joint statement on Twitter, the two said, “while we were incredibly grateful to have been given this opportunity in the first place, we both feel that the best way we can advocate for necessary change is to step aside and ask (as we have, in a letter to our editors) for the funds allocated to us to be redistributed to non-white writers”

In a subsequent post to social media, Melissa Lucashenko, the winner fo the 2019 Miles Franklin Award said, “if every settler Australian did what Jack and Bec did this week, we could decolonise by Christmas.”

“It’s about stepping off the ladder and letting blackfellas get a chance to be on that ladder which is of course resting on our land in the first place.”

Editor for Djed Press and Peril, Jinghua Qian, said they believed the lack of consideration in the hiring decision was a major oversight.

Speaking with NITV News on Thursday, Mx Qian said, “this was an opportunity to consider the incredible whiteness of their arts pages”. 

Applications have now reopened for the two book critic roles, while previous applicants are also being reconsidered.

On Wednesday, Life editor at The Age/SMH, Monique Farmer, told Mumbrella that Nine Entertainment was now working to encourage a greater diversity of applicants.

However, speaking to NITV News on Thursday Mx Qian said many experienced critics of colour did apply for the roles in the first instance.

“What this initiative made me think is that unless an organisation specifically gets a pot of money to address diversity, because they got it under some kind of diversity grant, it’s not a consideration,” they said.

Mx Qian recently created a database of Australian critics that allows writers to disclose if they have a disability, are a person of colour, identify as LGBTQI, are a parent and more. 

This comes as Junkee Media also announced its effort to build "a diverse team of culture experts to dive deep into Netflix titles".

In the world of literature, Ms Lucashenko said she can only count two First Nations people currently working in editorial roles.

“Everytime I produce a novel, or Nakkiah Lui produces a play or Ellen van Neerven produces a collection of poetry, we have to negotiate a wall of whiteness just to get our voices heard,” Ms Lucashenko told NITV News.

“What Jack and Bec did in actually giving up some material privilege means they’re walking the talk - it’s really important, it’s not just posturing.”

Narratives in Australia continue to be dominated by white perspectives. 

While diverse perspectives are becoming more common these days, Ms Lucashenko said, “those narratives are always being interpreted and curated by white people at the point of entry to the conversation”.

Mx Qian said, “art is all about perspective, perspective is critical to the arts”.

The lack of diversity in the media makes them believe complex cultural, political, aesthetic and social discussions are being flattened. 

“Diversity is about different ways of understanding history, it’s about having appreciation and expertise around varied narrative structures. 

“It’s not just about having different looking people in the room, but the critical lens they bring to their work.”

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