Anyone taking a stroll around Sydney won’t miss the fact that Australia is home to hundreds of thousands of people from Asia. There would be few urban Australians who don’t work or go to school with someone from Asia or who is of Asian descent.
Statistics tell us that around one million Australians were born in Asia, headed up by migrants from China and Vietnam. We can safely assume after years of immigration that there are at least another million descendants of Asian immigrants in this country.
So where are the Asian actors on Australian television?
This issue is now making the headlines, with Chinese Australians complaining that a new Australian mini-series is portraying a heroic historical Chinese-Australian as a white Australian.
Billy Sing was a little known Chinese-Australian sniper who served at Gallipoli, the most celebrated of Australia’s military battles. Extraordinarily, he is officially credited with 201 kills on the front line.
It’s hardly surprising that the portrayal of Sing in the mini-series, The Legend of Billy Sing is reportedly upsetting Australians of Chinese ancestry. According to the film-maker, the problem he faced was not finding an Asian actor for the title role, so much as finding a 60-year-old Asian Australian actor to play his father.
We don’t doubt that the film-maker had no ill-intentions, but it’s a sad state of affairs when we cannot find two Asian-Australian actors to play people whose cultural backgrounds are surely a fascinating, if not central, part of the story.
As Asians Down Under blog says, there are some Asian-Australians (or AAs as they refer to them) performing on Australian television but few perfoming regular roles:
“I do believe (as a general feeling as I didn’t do a summary of the 08 Asian Australians on TV) that we have seen more AAs on TV this year, but numbers alone shouldn’t be a measure of the success of Asian Australian actors. We need to look at their roles, and from above it’s obvious a lot of them were based on stereotypes and misrepresentations. The effeminate Asian male, the Asian foreigner, the submissive Asian girl, all non-threatening characters. Don’t get too excited just yet, there is still a long way to go.”
Part of the problem may be that not enough Asian Australians are taking up acting – and maybe that’s a cultural thing – but it’s also clear that many Australian television shows are not creating regular roles for Asian Australians.