Ever since I realised that my Year One teacher could have used some creative license and given the extremely talented, albeit slightly chubby Indian girl (me), the part of The Virgin Mary in the nativity play, I have felt that roles in Australian print and visual media are far too conventionally cast. Of course, I did not draw this conclusion when I was six years old, despite being the smartest person on the planet (according to my dad).
But growing up watching Oprah Winfrey become the most influential woman in the world reinforced to me that a person’s value transcends their racial background, and they can grow to be a significant voice in society – if given the right opportunities by media power-brokers willing to take risks.
Of course, you also have to be brilliant at what you do – like Lee Lin Chin and Waleed Aly. This week’s announcement of their Gold Logie nominations was so wonderful to hear, especially after the anti-mosque banner at Friday night’s AFL game, and the anti-Islam and anti-fascist violence at the Halal expo in Melbourne, which had made for a worrying weekend for all decent, peace-loving Australians.
I was thrilled to learn of the nominations of Aly, a Muslim who openly discusses his religion, and Indonesian-born Chin, as it reminded me that Australian culture has a long way to go before it is totally dominated by racial discord, no matter much the grossly misnamed ‘pro-Australia’ groups and the rise of ISIS have all of us concerned for our future. The nominations made me feel safer, and gave me hope.
But do not think for a second that Aly and Chin were nominated in the name of ‘diversity’ in the wake of the #oscarssowhite controversy – they were nominated because they are both excellent at their jobs, and are immensely popular. Aly and Chin have rocked Australian television, not only by representing sections of our community that are under-represented, but also by being influential in many other ways not directly related to their ethnicities.
Simply put, they have smashed some major stereotypes to develop their broad appeal. Chin is a highly trusted news source, a cult fashion icon, and as her work on The Feed demonstrates, a skilled comedienne. Aly was recently awarded the GQ Media Personality of the Year for his contribution to Australian media, and his offering of factual-based perspectives on controversial issues such as pro-rape internet trolls in his ‘Something We Should Talk About’ segments on The Project, has revoluntionised the thinking of thousands of viewers.
Another reason why Waleed deserves the gold? Post continues after video...
The Gold Logie nominations recognise the important work of some bad-ass trailblazers, but I also feel truly grateful to their bosses who shook things up and gave them the exposure that has enabled them both to have such an impact. I’m a born and bred Aussie chick, I married a white man, but I’m cognisant of having brown skin and of being a minority, and of my media diet dominated by faces very different to mine, so it’s truly a thrill to see Chin and Aly recognised for their contributions and influence. I think my joy at the noms, which borders on relief, demonstrates that a media that reflects the diversity that already exists in society can only further unify the community because it is inclusive, by making it easier for everyone to relate to.
The alternative is to do what we’ve been doing for decades, to concentrate on certain groups, thereby isolating others, and leaving the majority to draw their own conclusions about cultures they are not properly informed about. And what’s the result of marginalising minorities and limiting our understanding to stereotypes? Alienation and disillusionment.
Most of us accept that stereotypes are hurtful to an individual, but we all know it’s too easy to make assumptions about what someone may believe or feel based on their appearance, or what is publicly known about them. For example, simply by looking at my headshot, you probably wouldn’t realise that I could talk to you extensively about self-tanning creams, I can speak French, I quote incessantly from The Castle, I’m obsessed with Christmas (hence my lifelong ambition to play the Virgin Mary), my lasagne far outweighs my chicken curry, Cold Chisel is my favourite band in the world, and I’m ridiculously good in bed (okay, that last one is not entirely relevant, but I like to work that fact in where I can).
My point is that I’m informed about my Indian heritage and shaped by it to some extent, but I’m no more defined by it than anyone else is by their backgrounds – and that is something we need to demonstrate more regularly in a greater range of voices via the media.
"I’m informed about my Indian heritage and shaped by it to some extent, but I’m no more defined by it than anyone else is by their backgrounds." [/imd_caption]
We already have a number of ethnicities represented in the most beloved and respected Australian identities, for example, Aly and Chin, Adam Goodes, Anh Do, Dami Im, Jessica Mauboy, Indira Naidoo, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Gomes, Miranda Tapsell and Wendell Sailor - and these are just the celebrities that I have fantasised about being/doing - oops, I mean that immediately come to mind. We are also seeing an increasing amount of locally-made advertising campaigns that show people of different colours, abilities and sizes, as well as interracial and non-traditional friendships and families, such as from Kmart and Medibank Private. But Australia is still a long way off from visual and print media that equally represents all members of the community.
Considering recent world and domestic events, we need to address the imbalance as soon as possible. We need now more than ever to broaden our ideas about how to preserve the relative peace we enjoy in Australia. We can do this, fellow Australians, by utilising the media to educate, remove stereotypes and promote unity via a range of relatable perspectives.
Finally, to anyone who thinks this article is just a thinly veiled attempt to promote myself as Australia’s answer to Oprah, and not simply a proposal of constructive ideas for the sake of this country’s future, I ask you – can’t a girl do both? #logiesnotsowhite #howstheserenity #unitedcoloursofus #namanextoprah