Recently there has been quite vigorous discussion about the absence of cultural diversity in Australian film and television. While these discussions are not new, its great to see the articles hitting the mainstream press, and bringing to the fore a critical whiteness reading of the film and television industry. Unfortunately, Australia’s White Australia history still haunts eerily in the background, like a hungry ghost that hasn’t been properly laid to rest. Last year, Neighbours’ producers were hit with controversy when their casting of a South Asian family was criticised as “un-Australian”. Early this year actors Firass Dirani and Jay Laga’aia criticised major networks for their mono-racial content and their personal experiences of racism. Laga’aia’s criticisms came following losing his job on Home and Away, work that he had for slightly under 2 years. Compare this short-term employment stat to Ray Meagher, one of the Home and Away’s original cast member who has been with the show since its pilot serial debut in 1988. On the positive side, there have been important achievements – from the top of my head – there was the SBS produced The Kick which featured Anh Do and a multicultural cast (and also a lesbian romance in a few episodes) and Salam Café, the first and only Muslim TV panel series to be aired on national television in a Western country. In cinema, films like Home Song Stories, Mao’s Last Dancer and Mother Fish received high accolades. Furthermore, Asian-Australians have been very popular in hosting their own cooking shows; Luke Nguyen is now in the third installment of his culinary journey, and Poh Ling Yeow’s Poh’s Kitchen has been syndicated and screens across South-East Asia.
In this exciting edition of Peril in collaboration with the Asian-Australian Film Forum Network (AAFFN), we bring you a bumper edition featuring interviews and essays from Asian-Australians who have been in the industry for over three decades to emerging filmmakers. As explained in their interview, AAFFN co-chairs Amadeo Marquez-Perez and Dr Indigo Willing reveal the reasons and impetus behind creating a network and holding the inaugural AAFFN event in Melbourne last year. Annette Shun Wah, who has worked in the Australian media, radio, TV and film industry for over two decades, weaves a rich historical overview of Asian-Australians in the industry, flavoured with her own extensive personal experiences and research, and includes important milestones, including her own, in her full keynote address from AAFFN. Holding community events often goes without remuneration for the founders, in fact, the impetus comes from pure passion and determination, and we get a bit of an insight into this world in Kieran Tully’s article when he realises his brainchild – the Korean Film Festival – KOFFIA. The dynamic and charismatic Maria Tran who recently worked on Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta gives some advice about dreaming big and self-belief. This dedication to one’s dreams is similarly echoed in a reflective piece by Jiao Chen, a filmmaker who began his career by crewing on a range of local and international films and TV series including Mao’s Last Dancer and East of Everything 2. In their vox-pop, Indigo and Amadeo ask the following two questions: Why is it important to have Asian Australian participation on or behind the screen and who has been an inspiration to you. What are you working on now / next? Their vox-pop participants were: PJ Madam (SBS journalist and World News presenter), Andy Minh Trieu (co-host on Channel Nine’s Kitchen Whiz), Dr. Jane Chi Hyun Park (author of Yellow Future: Oriental Style in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema), Yu Ye Wu (who currently works at ICE – Information Cultural Exchange) and Joy Hopwood (the first regular Asian-Australian presenter on Play School).
In the Q&A section, I present a set of questions to Corrie Chen, Sky Crompton, Somchay Phakonkham, Chris Pang (who played a lead character, ‘Lee’ in Tomorrow When the War Began), Dominic Golding, Sofie Kim and Pearl Tan. Last year Corrie’s short film Wonder Boy had an international premiere at the prestigious Munich International Festival of Film Schools. Pearl is a NIDA acting graduate, and acting credits include Home Song Stories and Channel 9’s Sea Patrol. Somchay premiered his short film The Boat at ACMI recently. Sky Crompton chats about his first feature Citizen Jia Li. Dominic Golding and Sofie Kim are new filmmakers who have expertise from other industries – Sofie as a music/TV/documentary producer and Dominic as a playwright, actor, and cultural critic. Through a chance meeting at the AAFFN event, Peril’s editorial adviser, Dr. Tseen Khoo scores a fantastic interview with Alfred Nicdao, a Filipino Australian actor, who made his screen debut in 1979 as a Sumatran fisherman in The Sullivans. Following her passion for horror, Tseen also interviews Min Tran, a Melbourne based filmmaker whose work focuses on the horror genre. Peril’s Visual Arts Ed, Owen Leong interviews Heng Tang, the first filmmaker in Australia invited by Cannes Film Festival Cinefondation to attend their residency program to develop feature projects. In addition to the Q&As, I also feature an interview with Dave Cuong Nguyen and Hoang Tran Nguyen both highly respected community artists who recently completed a Big West festival sponsored project – Footscray by Night. In addition to her awesome editorial support, Indigo conducts interviews with Maria Tran, Jack Ngu, Quan Tran and Michael ‘Tokyo Love In’ Chin.
This Asian-Australian Film Forum-Peril collaborative edition presents a collection of insightful and potent pieces, a timely addition to the film, TV, media and diversity debates that had entered into the Australian public’s mind. However, more needs to be done so that important changes can take effect. As mentioned in Amadeo’s and Indigo’s interview, I hope too that this special AAFFN-Peril edition will contribute to and increase exposure and knowledge about Asian-Australian film and video makers, TV presenters and actos, new media and Youtube creators.