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Australian mainstream media lacking racial diversity
Signs of multicultural life in Australia are everywhere but not so often on television.

This year, however, the winner of the Australian version of talent program The X-Factor was Dami Im, an Australian of South Korean descent.

But after she won Ms Im was the victim of racial abuse on social media.

Sajithra Nithi reports.
Transcript
SAJITHRA NITHI, REPORTER: One look at Melbourne's busy streets demonstrates the culturally diverse population in Australia's metropolises. But television programs and the film industry here have often been accused of failing to reflect that on screen.

JIL MORGAN, CEO, MULTICULTURAL ARTS VICTORIA: When you look at reality TV or theatre or film, it is not representative of who we are as Australians.

(Excerpt from Neighbours plays)

CONNOR O'NEILL (Patrick Harvey): Anyway I can't go to the wedding, I'll be catching up with me old mate Toadie.

(Excerpt ends)

SAJITHRA NITHI: The long-running soap opera Neighbours was just one program described by critics as too white.

(Excerpt from Neighbours plays)

AJAY KAPOOR (Sachin Joab): I want to do this every day for you.

PRIYA KAPOOR (Menik Gooneratne): We'd be broke in a month.

AJAY KAPOOR (Sachin Joab): Yeah, broke but happy.

(Excerpt ends)

SAJITHRA NITHI: The show introduced an Indian Sri Lankan family into Ramsey Street two years ago, but they were written out in July.

The executive producer says it was purely for editorial reasons.

Even so, many actors, both newcomers and veterans from different backgrounds, say they're not being offered roles that aren't ethnically stereotypical.

ALFRED NICDAO, ACTOR: People of my background with my look, I kind of expect it now. It is rare that I could get an audition that is not allocated for an Asian character.

(As Horta Cheng on Sea Patrol): I'm not going to stop until I get what I want.

SAJITHRA NITHI: Alfred Nicdao moved to Australia from the Philippines and his first on screen appearance here was in The Sullivans back in 1979.

(Excerpt from The Sullivans plays)

ALFRED NICDAO (as his Sumatran Fisherman Sullivans character): Do not tell me how to run my business.

(Excerpt ends)

SAJITHRA NITHI: He's played several roles including a Sumatran fisherman and a Japanese soldier. He says in the 1990s Australian television made a real push towards on screen diversity. But that seems to have slowed down in recent years.

ALFRED NICDAO: Between 2000 and 2010, there was a sudden decline, and in fact I think we've gone backwards in the last five years. At the same time, I'm now meeting a lot of more talented multicultural people. So I'm talking Middle Eastern and I'm talking Southeast Asian artists that are emerging in this country and sadly I think they are being overlooked in the mainstream media.

SAJITHRA NITHI: Melbourne actress Fanny Hanusin's experiences are similar.

FRANNY HANUSIN, ACTOR: A lot of the television, like the productions, is influenced a lot actually by the people behind it, like the top people. So for example, the producers, the production companies, and then if, for example, they have a conservative way of thinking, then that's what's going to reflect on the screen. And so either we need a new generation of producers who are more open minded.

SAJITHRA NITHI: She thinks a racial quota system for Australian television would work, something already in place in countries like the United Kingdom

TV producer Julie Eckersley agrees.

JULIE ECKERSLEY, PRODUCER, MATCHBOX PICTURES: It's the same with women moving into roles. You need to discriminate back one way just to help people adjust. I think there really is a place for that. I think sometimes actually creating percentages, as kind of blunt-edged as it can seem, can just help bring it into a focus.

SAJITHRA NITHI: But multicultural Australia burst into focus on reality TV. Singing competitions and cooking contests usually see a more diverse cross-section of the Australian population.

But even then not without controversy.

(Footage of Dami Im singing on X-Factor plays)

Last week, Dami Im won the Australian X Factor. Dami came to Australia from Seoul at the age of nine.

SAJITHRA NITHI: While many applauded her victory, she was also the target of abusive tweets.

READ TWEET (voiceover): An Asian wins the X Factor, what is this world coming to?

READ TWEET 2 (voiceover): She's not even Australian, English isn't even her first language.

READ TWEET 3 (voiceover): This is Australian X Factor, not ASIAN Factor.

SAJITHRA NITHI: But many Australians voiced their support, including Senator Penny Wong.

And some say the fact that Dami won the public vote is significant in itself.

(Footage of Dami Im singing on X-Factor plays)

LYRICS: All I want is to make you proud..

JIL MORGAN: Her family are Australian, proud Australians. And she is also a proud Australian and can go out and represent Australia in the world.

I think it's part of our maturation as Australians.

SAJITHRA NITHI: This lack of diversity is something that is played out on Australian stages too. But it's an issue the Melbourne Theatre Company is addressing.

Together with multicultural Arts Victoria, the theatre has started a program called MTC Connect, working with various community across Melbourne to make their productions more representative.

CHRIS MEAD, LITERARY DIRECTOR, MELBOURNE THEATRE COMPANY: Institutional racism is about not simply changing actors on a stage. It is about the people who are directing those plays, who are writing those plays, who is on the company's board, who is selling the tickets. You know, what so often happens is that people from minority cultures end up just being the cleaners, and that's a massive failure of the institution, if that's the case.

SAJITHRA NITHI: Like Chris Mead at the Melbourne Theatre Company, TV producer Julie Eckersley also says it is not just about the faces you see on television or on stage. It's also about the kinds of stories that are being told.

JULIE ECKERSLEY: I think as multicultural Australia gets better at telling its own stories, as the different voices within us get stronger, and as we find more platforms for them, I think we're going to see more of it happening.

SAJITHRA NITHI: So while what's on screen now may not represent modern-day Australia, maybe it is just a matter of time before our stories start to reflect our reality, and colour blind casting is considered the norm.

JULIE ECKERSLEY: I think there's some really positive things that are happening where we're starting to see more of what Australia really is. There is always this adjustment period when we have this idea who we have been in the past and now we've changed, and the screen is just taking a little while to catch up.
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