Ethnic Actors Bemoan Television’s “White Australia” Policy

In which one these things is not like the others.

The Secret Life Of White People And Their One Token Ethnic Friend (2001-2005) was a hit Network Ten television series which revolved around an ambitious group of twenty-somethings living in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Their surnames in order of implied ethnicity however were Blake, Lewis, Lang, Trader, Kennedy, McGill, Christensen and Kovitch with only Deborah Mailman playing a character of non-caucasian descent.

And yet, here are the facts about Melbourne:

– Melbourne has the largest Greek speaking population in the world outside of Greece.
– Around 35% of the city was born overseas – a figure which far exceeds the national average of 23.1%.
– Over 100,000 residents speak Chinese at home.
– The Vietnamese surname Nguyen is the second most common listing in the phone book. The first is Smith.
– Melbourne has the largest Jewish population in Australia and is home to the largest population of Holocaust survivors per capita outside of Israel.
– Melbourne is home to the largest Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Australia.

You get the point.

Fast forward to today and a minor controversy has erupted after Australian actor Firass Dirani, a Sydney born actor of Lebanese descent, called for a more accurate depiction of our multicultural population while criticising the casting directors who have “white washed” Australian television screens.

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

Dirani, who currently stars in multi-ethnic ABC series The Straits, singled out Channel Seven series Winners & Losers noting that “people on Winners & Losers in their floral colours and their pastels … I don’t even know people like this…We need to watch ourselves, warts and all; flaws and all.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by former Home and Away actor Jay Laga’aia (New Zealand born but of Samoan descent) who took to twitter to offer his own perspective on the perceived “white Australia” policy among Australian casting directors.

“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.” he tweeted.

Then later, “Hats off to you Firass Dirani, for a call to stop commerical (sic) network producers casting only white actors. Only on Australian screens. Shame!”

The same grievance was famously leveled at US sitcom Friends which promptly cast an African-American actress to play Ross Geller’s new love interest. HBO drama series The Wire on the other hand, featured an ensemble cast which was predominantly African-American, a split which reflected the racial demographics of the city in which it was set. If only Australia strived for similar levels of realism…