29 years deep into its inexorable march towards infinity and beyond, Neighbours, enduring Australian soap opera series about the suburban lives of white people, has at last cast a black person.
The accomplished new addition being 24 year old Kalgoorlie, WA actor, Meyne Wyatt, who now has the questionable distinction of being the show’s first ever indigenous Australian principal cast member.
A quick history lesson: the first indigenous Australian actor to appear on Neighbours was actually Tony Briggs, who went on to pen award winning play The Sapphires, adapted into a film which serendipitously starred Wyatt, whose other film and TV credits include ABC’s Redfern Now and the forthcoming Australian drama film Strangerland, starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving.
Per Fairfax, Wyatt will play Nate Kinski, a “non-indigenous character loosely linked to two of Ramsay Street’s longtime residents, Susan and Karl Kennedy.”
According to Ten, Wyatt’s appointment had nothing to do with his skin colour. “While cultural diversity is definitely important, in cases where we don’t need a specific ethnic background, our brief to agents is to put forward their best people and that was the case for this character,” series producer Jason Herbison said. “Meyne is an exceptional young award-winning actor and very much on the radar of casting directors. We feel very privileged to have him join our regular cast. From his first audition, we knew we had found the best actor for the role.”
This lack of diversity is nothing new, of course.
In 2012, minor controversy erupted when Firass Dirani (The Combination, Underbelly: The Golden Mile), a Sydney born actor of Lebanese descent, criticised Australian casting directors for systematically presenting a narrowly focused portrayal of multicultural Australia.
“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 at the time. “Hopefully the networks start writing shows that cater for different actors and different cultural backgrounds.”
Dirani singled out Seven series Winners & Losers, saying “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.”
Diranni’s gripe was echoed by former Home and Away actor Jay Laga’aia (New Zealand born of Samoan descent) who bemoaned what he labelled a “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.
Better late than never from a show which addressed whitewashing concerns in the early 90s by introducing an asian family called the Lims who were later accused of eating their neighbour’s dog.