When it comes to diversity on Australian TV the media still has a long way to go, according to screenwriter, journalist and newspaper columnist Benjamin Law.
In the same week he made headlines for his infamous “circle jerk” comment on Q&A over debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Law visited Macleay College to speak to journalism students about the current shape of Australia’s media.
He said despite the fact only 67 per cent of Australia was anglo-celtic, they were over-represented in the nation’s TV dramas, making up 82 per cent of all characters.
“As much as we are a diverse nation … we very very rarely see that in our media,” Law said.
The televised version of his first book The Family Law, now producing its second season on SBS for 2017, goes some way to addressing this imbalance but “we are not there yet”, he said.
Law, 34, wrote The Family Law in 2010, which documents his personal journey of growing up gay and Asian on the “monocultural” sunshine coast, set against the backdrop of his parents’ divorce. The TV series is a fictionalised comedy version of the book.
“It’s a six-part series about divorce; which is the funniest thing in the world, obviously,” he joked.
But most importantly to Law, the TV series broke new ground.
“We were really proud of the fact that 90 per cent of our cast were Asian Australians,” he said.
“We were very proud of getting the Cantonese language on screen; very proud of getting these actors work.
“Australia hasn’t been very good at representing racial and cultural diversity on screen.”
Law welcomed comparisons between The Family Law and American sit-com Fresh Off the Boat but said the only thing they really had in common was an Asian hybrid family at their centre.
“I watch Fresh off the Boat; I love it,” he said.
“But [The Family Law] is a show more about divorce. Culture informs the show but it isn’t the plot. I think our show is about race as much as Friends is about being white.”
Law said it was up to the media decision-makers to consciously ensure diversity occurs, both on screen and behind it.
“That whole idea that diversity will happen naturally in the workplace because talent rises to the top is kind of a lie,” he said.
“There is a tendency of white preference in the workplace, and the media as well.”
Law encouraged emerging journalists to seek out diverse stories; “stories that usually aren’t told”, such as the content of his second book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012).
Law is also the co-author of the comedy book Shit Asian Mothers Say (2014) with his sister Michelle and illustrator Oslo Davis and is a frequent contributor to Good Weekend (The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age), Frankie and The Monthly. He has also written for over 50 publications, businesses, and agencies in Australia and worldwide.
Pictures by Noel Fisher