Why is everyone on TV so ... white?

Jay Laga’aia

Update: Home and Away actor Jay Laga’aia whose contract was ended with the show came out saying he was moved on because the show already had two ethnic characters. He tweeted: “As someone who lost his job on H&A because they couldn’t write two ethnics that weren’t together, I’d like the chance to ply my trade.” The show claimed his storyline had just come to a ‘natural conclusion’. Jay is of Samoan descent and from New Zealand.

Gold Logie winning actor and Underbelly star Firass Dirani kicked off the questions about why a lot of Australian TV was so … white.

He said it was time to paint a proper portrait of the country on television. Dirani was reported as saying:

Firass Dirani

“There has to be a call for the networks to put on shows with these cultural differences because this is who we are in 2012,” he said.

“We need to watch ourselves, warts and all; flaws and all.

“Hopefully the networks start writing shows that cater for different actors and different cultural backgrounds.”

He’s got an interesting point. Remember when Aussie soap Neighbours scripted the arrival of a new Indian family at the end of 2011 some people let their racist flag fly.

How could they!? Why would an Indian family even move to Ramsay Street?

Well, that’s the thing. The family aren’t allowed to live on Ramsay Street. They’re just part of the ‘extended cast’. Hmmm.

Sachin Joab, a Melbourne born actor of Indian descent, won the role as a dad on the soap but was taken aback when the taunts began to pour in. “Those Aussies who are saying it is un-Australian will be the same ones who pretty much supported the White Australia policy back in the day, you are never going to get away from that kind of stuff.” Producer Susan Bower said: “”We have been criticised heavily for being too white and you are damned if you do and if you don’t, and we would much rather be criticised for moving (in this direction).”

It’s safe to say Aussie television has been living with its own ‘White Australia’ policy – a play on the former immigration policies of Australia which favoured Europeans and westerners as settlers. It’s a viewpoint shared by many.

Here’s a gallery of the casts of Australian TV shows:

The problem is hardly a new one. Mia wrote on the matter in 2008 after similar reports and protestations from the actor’s union that they’d been trying for 20 years to make some progress:

“I don’t watch either of these shows (do you?) but I do agree more diversity would be a positive thing in EVERY facet of the media. Where are the Asian or indigenous or dark-skinned news and current affairs reporters? Models? TV presenters? News readers? Commercial TV and the mainstream media do a lousy job of representing any demographic other than white anglo saxons.

Isn’t it about time we began to reflect a more multi-cultural image of Australia? One that more closely relates to the kinds of faces you see when you walk down the street or go to the beach or wander around Westfield looking for your car? What makes producers think we all just want to see white people on TV? And how can we tell them otherwise?”

The cast of Young Talent Time

Things might be changing. S-L-O-W-L-Y. At least now the cast of Young Talent Time appear to be a broad mix of ages, genders and backgrounds. All white? Hardly.

But holding up one show as a great example isn’t enough. We need to be able to hold up entire season schedules and point to them and say: “That’s us. That’s Australia right there.”

What do you think? Is Australia television too ‘white’ or do you think everyone is represented well enough?