Last year, The Family Law season one premiered on SBS and did something no television show in Australian history had done before.
It centered upon the lives of a Chinese-Australian family.
Despite the fact one in three Australian families are not white-Anglo Saxon, almost every face we see on television looks exactly the same. The diversity and multiculturalism that makes up the tapestry of Australian life is not reflected in the current range of television we produce and watch.
On this week’s episode of Mamamia’s TV podcast The Binge, hosts Laura Brodnik and Gemma Garkut spoke to the creator and inspiration behind The Family Law, author, screenwriter and journalist Benjamin Law.
LISTEN: Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik and Head of News Gemma Garkut chat with Benjamin Law on this week’s episode of The Binge.
The blatant lack of diversity currently on our screens is not, Law says, a “PC [politically correct] cosmetic, feel good discussion to be having.
“I actually think it’s kind of a darker conversation than that. I think it’s why have non-white Australians been excluded systematically from Australian screens for a long time? Just knowing that makes me feel uncomfortable. Not as a TV maker, but also as a TV viewer and kind of as an Australian as well.”
Historically, Law says, most of the people in power in the television industry have been Anglo Saxon.
Even if they had the desire to put non-white faces on TV, Law reasoned, “you’re not going to feel confident enough to do that because you don’t feel like you have the authority to tell those stories…”
The way to change that is to open up the world behind the cameras as well.
“You invite a more diverse cohort of people into those rooms to tell those stories, to make those decisions, to tell you what it is like to have that experience. And I guess that’s what The Family Law has been like, you know, having such a diverse crew on board, not just in terms of the actors, but myself, the producers, it’s a really decent mix of people.”
MELBOURNE! Cinema Nova in Carlton is gonna screen the first two episodes of #TheFamilyLaw S2 on the big screen on Tuesday 13 June @ 8.30pm with a Q&A to follow afterwards. I’ll be there with both my fake and real mums, pictured here and god help us all. Link in the bio! Everyone else, you can catch our first two back-to-back episodes when we return to @sbs_australia and SBS On Demand Thursday 15 June! ????
Season one of The Family Law was based on Law’s own memoir, which is a collection of brilliant and humorous family essays, with the same name.
Law credits Tony Ayres, an executive producer at Matchbox Pictures who has headed incredible Australian television shows such as Barracuda, Seven Types of Ambiguity and The Slap, as helping translate his book into a television script.
It was clear from the outset that this SBS series was not going to be a story just about race.
“Family comedies don’t tend to be about broken families,” Law said.
Season one took place across one long, hot Queensland summer, and had at it’s crux the breakdown of Law’s parents marriage.
He included his four siblings and parents in the writing process, careful to be respectful and considerate of their own experiences.
When it came to the casting process, Law said it was an eye-opening moment for the production team, who realised they couldn’t “really think of that many prominent Asian, let alone, Chinese, Australian actors.”
The casting call went out to half a dozen countries, but in the end the majority of the talent was sourced here in Australia.
Previously, “they just weren’t getting the roles. The roles just weren’t being written for them,” Law said on The Binge.
Although the acknowledgement that Australian television does not completely reflect the faces of the audience watching it, Law says the second part of the conversation is a far more “uncomfortable and challenging one”.
"Well if you want it, how are you going to get it? Because it doesn't just happen by itself. We've already shown that it doesn't work.
"We can't be complacent," Law urged.
The importance of The Family Law being broadcast on Australian screens cannot be understated. 90 per cent of it's cast is Asian-Australian. The theme of divorce is front and centre. But more than that, it's interesting, brilliantly scripted and entertaining.
When The Family Law writers sit down to plot their character's arcs, motivations and words they have one main mandate. They'll make you laugh, but only after they've punched you in the stomach with sadness.
For anyone who knows the unique torture and beauty of growing up in a house full of siblings, has watched their parents navigate a divorce or has tried to find their place in the school yard, The Family Law has something for you.
In an industry that has written Asian-Australians out of our television scripts, except for the token doctor, lawyer, or underworld figure, the portrayal of this lovable and dynamic family as funny is nothing short of revolutionary.
The overarching message to the industry is clear: We need more people like Benjamin Law in television.
Tonight the third episode of season two airs on SBS. Tune in, or you can catch up on season one of The Family Law for free, on SBS Demand.
Listen to the full episode of The Binge for the biggest TV news of the week.