Foreword from the CEO

Australian TV drama has a tremendous capacity to connect us and represent us by bringing distinctive local stories into our homes. Australian audiences are diverse, the Australian community is diverse, and it is important that our screen stories reflect this diversity.

Screen stories that authentically reflect us and our place in the world are important for helping to grow our cultural identity and because all Australians have the right to be included in the stories we tell about ourselves. They also make commercial sense, because stories and characters that resonate and connect with audiences are more likely to succeed, both here in Australia and on a world stage.

Unprecedented access to global content options is leading to fragmented audiences and competition for viewers. Audiences and distribution models have changed dramatically, and those who do not adapt with the changing landscape will be left behind. But with change comes the opportunity to connect with new audiences and ideas.

Part of Screen Australia’s remit is to provide the sector, policy makers and the broader community with data and information about how the Australian screen industry is performing. As with the Drama Report, Screen Currency and the first Seeing Ourselves, this report, Seeing Ourselves 2, is intended to provide an objective overview, some specific insights and data evidencing what we are seeing on our screens.

There is a strong desire in the industry to craft increasingly nuanced and sophisticated Australian stories dealing with the diversity of our communities and the sometimes challenging conversations that arise from genuine introspection. It is important that industry, communities and storytellers are provided with data and evidence to support their work and the positive changes that will flow from a diverse slate of content.

I am proud to share Seeing Ourselves 2, the second report in our landmark research series about diversity in Australian TV drama, building on our 2016 study.

Part 1 of this report presents quantitative data about the diversity of main characters in drama titles broadcast between 2016 and 2021, across several diversity dimensions. This includes, for the first time, examination of age, location and intersectionality, and a deeper dive into cultural background. It is pleasing to see substantial improvements in many areas since our 2016 study, including levels of First Nations representation going from strength to strength.

However, the overall results indicate that the pace of change remains slow – there is still a long way to go to reach full representation of Australia’s diverse communities. In particular, disability representation remains critically low. This highlights the need for targeted, focused effort in this area from industry, as we have seen successfully employed for First Nations screen representation over the past three decades.

Part 2 of this report dives beneath the numbers and behind the scenes. It draws on consultations and interviews to examine the factors that are limiting change as well as opportunities to improve representation both in front of and behind the camera. These qualitative findings are based on the voices and experiences of a broad range of industry stakeholders, decision makers and creatives, with a particular focus on the perspectives of historically under‑represented screen practitioners.

 A still from the TV series Stateless, ABCTV

Collectively, the views of our interviewees provide useful insights to support our industry in navigating what are increasingly nuanced, varied and complex conversations around improving diversity, equity and inclusion. These vexed issues can be seen at all stages of storytelling – from content development and commissioning, through to casting, production and promotion. I encourage the sector to consider the challenges and opportunities set out in this report, and to collaborate on ways of building a stronger and more diverse screen industry that produces more fresh and engaging stories.

In Part 3 of this report, we place our findings in an international context through a scan of related research and activity from our peers in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand screen industries. While our on‑screen results compare favourably with some of our peers on several metrics – such as our strong First Nations and women’s on‑screen representation – other jurisdictions are ahead of the game in terms of taking action and implementing whole‑of‑sector strategies. We can learn from these countries as we look at ways to pick up the pace of change in our local industry.

Tools and resources are also important to support change, and Part 4 of this report presents a range of these. We found that many tools and resources already exist that can be used by the industry to continue to become more inclusive in our day‑to‑day work. I urge everyone in the Australian screen industry to make use of this wealth of information, as well as the insights in this report.

Since the first Seeing Ourselves report in 2016, Screen Australia has launched a number of initiatives aimed at diversifying our industry and screen stories and supporting practitioners from under‑represented groups.

These include the:

  • Writers’ Journey lab in partnership with Netflix and Australians in Film (AiF), where early‑career writers attend an intensive Netflix writing workshop to improve episodic writing skills across various genres.
  • Untapped initiative in partnership with AiF, where undiscovered and historically excluded writers and directors gain professional development with masterclasses from award‑winning international filmmakers and mentorships from leading practitioners.
  • Digital Originals initiative with SBS and NITV where up to ten teams of screen creatives from currently under‑represented groups develop and pitch a project that aligns to the SBS Charter and SBS On Demand platform.
  • Developing the Developer workshops where practitioners from diverse backgrounds enhance their story development skills, and build a development toolkit across platforms and genres in an intensive workshop environment.
  • Talent Camps with AFTRS where just under 100 emerging screen creatives are supported to intensively work on story development, provided mentorship and receive the chance for their production to be funded for development.

I welcome too, the Australian Government’s release of the National Cultural Policy, Revive.1 The policy affirms the need for storytelling that authentically reflects Australia’s people, and the vital role of Australian stories in building national identity, social unity and economic success. It also seeks to increase diversity and improve access and workplace safety in our creative industries.

There has been significant and positive engagement from the screen industry in the development of this report. I sincerely thank all those who have contributed, including those who participated in consultations and interviews, who shared their insights and experiences so generously.

There is much goodwill in this industry, and a genuine willingness to address issues like representation, workplace cultural safety, and authentic storytelling and content partnerships. Seeing Ourselves 2 is a resource that can guide our decision making, inform and empower us, and help monitor the effects of our collective efforts. It indicates where there has been progress in TV drama, and it illuminates where further attention is needed to build on this momentum, and to continue to improve sector diversity and inclusion.

While much work has been done, more lies ahead to ensure we have an industry in which everyone can participate and thrive, and all Australians can see themselves represented. Collaboration will be essential to bringing about transformative change, equity and full representation in the Australian screen industry.

Graeme Mason
CEO Screen Australia


Screen Australia’s Seeing Ourselves research series investigates diversity in Australian TV drama and the challenges and opportunities behind the scenes for telling authentic, diverse screen stories.

For Australian screen content to have the most cultural impact it should reflect Australia’s diversity. This will also improve creative and commercial outcomes by connecting with new perspectives and audiences.

A follow up to our landmark 2016 study, Seeing Ourselves 2 examines the diversity of the main characters in scripted Australian TV drama broadcast between 2016 and 2021, how this compares to the Australian population, and what has changed since the previous Seeing Ourselves report. In response to changing distribution platforms, we have expanded the scope of the study to include commissioned content broadcast on streaming and online services. We also conducted stakeholder consultations and interviews to capture the opportunities and challenges faced by those involved in bringing Australian stories to the screen, with a particular focus on the perspectives of historically under‑represented screen practitioners.

In an environment of heightened global discussion and scrutiny, and an industry working to raise the bar on diverse representation, Seeing Ourselves 2 aims to be a reliable source of information that supports further positive change – towards diversity, equity and inclusion in the Australian screen industry.

A still from the TV series Mustangs FC Series 2, ABC Me
Part 1

On-screen diversity


For our current study, we examined 3,072 main characters in 361 scripted Australian TV dramas, including children’s dramas and comedies. Titles examined were first released between 2016 and 2021 on free‑to‑air or subscription TV, streaming or online services available in Australia.

Seeing Ourselves 2 looks at several aspects of diversity including First Nations identity, cultural background, disability, gender, sexual orientation, occupational status and two new variables: age and location. In measuring these aspects of diversity, the aim is that all the many and varied voices in Australia have the opportunity to be represented in local screen content.

Characters were categorised based on a set of indicators: self‑identification (used where possible), story elements (such as romantic attraction), visible attributes, and in the case of cultural background, name, family, language spoken, accent, or the background of the actor.2 We drew on definitions supported and promoted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and advocacy groups, including use of the social model of disability for disabled characters. Actors’ demographic attributes were identified through public sources such as talent profiles and interviews.

Further details can be found in How we measured on‑screen diversity and Appendix A: Key terms and definition in the complete Report, which is downloadable below.


  • There have been increases in the levels of diversity among main characters in TV drama since our 2016 study, including increased representation of First Nations, disabled and LGBTIQ+ characters, and a doubling of non‑European representation.
  • There is a strong and growing level of First Nations representation on screen. However, First Nations main characters are more concentrated in fewer titles than characters from other groups. Among First Nations main characters, there are lower rates of LGBTIQ+ and disability representation than among main characters overall.
  • A number of Australia’s communities remain under‑represented compared to population benchmarks. These include people from European backgrounds such as people with German, Dutch and Italian ancestry; and people from non‑European backgrounds such as people with Indian, Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese ancestry. One in four TV dramas feature all Anglo‑Celtic main characters, which is an improvement from around one in three in the previous study.
  • The rate of disability representation among main characters has improved, but from a low base. Disability remains very much under‑represented in TV drama compared to the Australian population and seven in ten titles feature no main characters who are disabled. There are higher rates of disability representation among main characters who are Anglo‑Celtic or European than among characters who are non‑European or First Nations.
  • Apart from non‑binary characters, main characters are split evenly between women and men. There were 18 trans and/or gender diverse main characters in TV drama between 2016 and 2021 (0.6% of characters), including five trans men, eight trans women and five non‑binary characters.
  • The overall rate of LGBTIQ+ representation has also improved but is still significantly below the population benchmark. Almost seven in ten titles have no LGBTIQ+ main characters, and almost half of the titles that feature LGBTIQ+ main characters feature just one. More than one in two LGBTIQ+ main characters are women. There is a higher rate of LGBTIQ+ representation among main characters who are non‑European than among other cultural backgrounds and there is a higher rate of disability representation among LGBTIQ+ characters than among other groups.
  • There is a bias towards socioeconomic advantage on our screens, particularly among Anglo‑Celtic and European main characters. While nearly all groups are represented at all occupation skill levels, First Nations, non‑European and disabled characters are less likely to be represented in higher skill level occupations.
  • Children’s titles and comedies tend to show higher rates of First Nations and non‑European representation than general drama titles, but have lower levels of disability and LGBTIQ+ representation.
  • There is under‑representation of people aged under 12 or 60 and over, and people in regional areas. There is a bias in Australian TV drama towards centring stories on characters aged 18–44, and living in capital cities.
  • While still below population benchmarks, there are higher levels of European and non‑European representation among the pool of actors cast as main characters, than among the main characters they play. This suggests additional opportunities for ‘colour‑conscious casting’ which involves intentional consideration of an actor’s ethnicity and how it enriches a character’s identity and the story.3
  • Just 3.9% of actors receiving main roles publicly identify as disabled. While this is likely to be an undercount due to reliance on public information, it suggests a need to increase disability representation in the talent pool to create more opportunities for ‘identity‑conscious casting’.
  • 4.8% of actors cast in main roles publicly identify as LGBTIQ+ including four trans men, three trans women and ten non‑binary actors. Nearly all trans or gender diverse main characters are played by actors who publicly identify as trans or gender diverse.
  • 2 The best practice for diversity data collection is self‑identification. We used further supplementary indicators as the best available information for fictional characters in screen content. The phenotypical approach reflected in these supplementary measures should not be the standard for data collection on diversity more broadly. For discussion of self‑identification in data collection on cultural diversity, see Australian Human Rights Commission 2022, National Anti‑Racism Framework Scoping Report, p.87
  • 3 The concepts of ‘colour‑conscious’ and ‘identity‑conscious casting’ are part of a live, complex and evolving discussion (see From colour‑blind to identity‑conscious casting in the complete Report, which is downloadable below). Further research is needed due to the reliance on publicly sourced information about actors and as the numbers alone cannot effectively tell the whole story.
A still from the TV series Grace Beside Me, NITV
Part 2

Challenges and opportunities


To understand the challenges and opportunities for the screen industry in improving representation and inclusion on screen and off, we conducted consultations with 35 representatives across 23 organisations including: diversity, equity, inclusion and human rights organisations; screen guilds and industry associations; screen education and training organisations; and Australian broadcasters and streaming services.

These were followed by in‑depth interviews with 28 screen industry practitioners at the frontline of Australian content creation to delve deeper into the themes identified in the consultations. Practitioners included decision makers in broadcasters or streaming services, representatives from state/territory or community screen bodies, key creatives (producers, directors and writers) and actors. While our interviewees encompassed a broad range of lived experience, the majority identified with historically excluded or under‑represented communities.

Details of participants can be found in Appendix C: List of consultation and interview participants in the complete Report, which is downloadable below.

A still from the TV series Mystery Road, ABCTV


Centring lived experience4 and genuine collaboration in telling authentic stories

Challenges highlighted by participants include:
  • uncertainty over who can tell what stories
  • persistence of stereotypes, tokenism, and gaps in representation in storytelling
  • scripted diversity may fall away as projects move to casting and production
  • negotiating the boundaries and grey areas of cross‑cultural collaboration on First Nations stories
  • hierarchical and transactional ways of working, which mean producers and directors have all the power over the end product of cultural elements in a story
  • practitioners from under‑represented communities carrying the burden of reputational risk and community accountability when storytelling is inauthentic or exclusionary.

Opportunities highlighted by participants include:

  • First Nations stories are increasingly told from a First Nations voice and perspective
  • greater recognition of both the cultural and commercial value of diverse content, and increased demand and opportunities for authentic, diverse storytelling
  • inclusive and authentic storytelling can be achieved through:
    • telling stories led by or in genuine collaboration with people with lived experience, and valuing cultural knowledge as integral to projects
    • presenting stories about characters’ personal experiences, rather than trying to portray a whole community in ‘broad brushstrokes’ which can risk reducing characters to stereotypes
    • shifting from ‘colour‑blind’ to ‘colour‑conscious casting’,5 and extending this intentional practice beyond ethnicity to ‘identity‑conscious casting’ by actively acknowledging other aspects of an actor’s identity such as gender and disability
    • getting more diverse voices into writing rooms and on set and giving actors an active role in storytelling
    • increasing cultural safety,6 and sharing decision making, creative control and credit when it comes to the cultural elements in a story
    • doing cultural or community research, consultation and engagement well, including genuine collaboration that benefits both parties (see 4. From consultation to collaboration in the complete Report, which is downloadable below).

Increasing diverse representation across the screen industry at all career stages

Challenges highlighted by participants include:
  • the persistence of systemic barriers in the screen industry for people from historically excluded and under‑represented groups, particularly disabled people and those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage
  • a need to increase diversity among producers, commissioners, experienced mid‑career key creatives and the leadership of screen organisations – particularly disability representation
  • growing and retaining a diverse acting talent pool, and challenges in developing new and existing talent and career pathways across different roles (for example, from writer to producer).
Opportunities highlighted by participants include:
  • having more diversity among crews, which can normalise diversity on set and support actors
  • online platforms that provide new opportunities for emerging talent by having lower barriers to entry and a broad audience reach
  • an abundance of entry level and emerging talent that community‑based organisations can source
  • developing and supporting the careers of under‑represented talent by building a network of champions and mentors and developing structured attachment programs.

Increasing cultural safety and accessibility across the screen industry

Challenges highlighted by participants include:
  • a lack of understanding of cultural safety and accessibility7 in the Australian screen industry and a need for education tools and training to assist production companies and improve workplace culture
  • fears among under‑represented practitioners about being punished or ostracised for speaking up about cultural safety concerns or access needs
  • practitioners from under‑represented communities carrying the burden of educating production teams and advocating for themselves, their access needs and cultural safety
  • expectations on individual practitioners to provide lived experience to shape storytelling without an additional fee or credit.
Opportunities highlighted by participants include:
  • culturally competent commissioners, producers and key creatives are driving generational change by building diverse teams, creating culturally safe and accessible workplaces and valuing lived experience in storytelling
  • individuals, especially the project leaders (producers, directors, writers) can ‘self‑educate’ on cultural safety and accessibility: do their own research to alleviate the burden on under‑represented practitioners to educate production teams
  • professional education and training to improve cultural safety and accessibility across the industry.

Further challenges, opportunities and suggestions to increase diversity and inclusion are detailed throughout Part 2 in the complete Report, which is downloadable below.

  • 4 Lived experience is defined as: ‘Personal knowledge about the world gained through direct, first‑hand involvement in everyday events rather than through representations constructed by other people.’ Chandler, D and Munday R 2016, Oxford: A dictionary of media and communication (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press.
  • 5 Interviewees described ‘colour‑conscious casting’ as intentional consideration of an actor’s ethnicity and how it enriches a character’s identity and the story. See From colour‑blind to identity‑conscious casting in the complete Report, which is downloadable below.
  • 6 Cultural safety is defined as: ‘An environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledgeand experience of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening.’ See Cultural safety in practice in the complete Report, which is downloadable below.
  • 7 For definitions, see Appendix A: Key terms and definitions. For further discussion, see Cultural safety in practice, The social model of disability and Spotlight on disability. Each section is available in the complete Report, which is downloadable below.
Part 3

International context


To understand how the results of Seeing Ourselves 2 compare to findings from our international peers, we looked at similar studies of on‑screen representation in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, as well as actions to address inequities in these screen industries.

A still from the TV series RFDS


  • Our international review suggests that Australia compares favourably to some of our peers on some on‑screen diversity dimensions, such as First Nations and women’s representation.8 However, it also highlights an opportunity to learn from our peers who are forging ahead with collaborative whole‑of‑sector responses to improve diverse representation.
  • The strong rate of First Nations representation among main characters in TV dramas found by Seeing Ourselves 2 was not found in studies in the US, Canada or New Zealand.9
  • Similar international studies show varied results on cultural diversity but tend to indicate the need for more representation of people of colour, particularly Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Representation of Black people among main TV characters has achieved parity with population benchmarks in both the US and UK.
  • Low disability representation both on screen and behind the camera is an international concern, highlighted in studies from the US, UK and Canada.
  • The gender parity for women found in Seeing Ourselves 2 was not found in international studies of on‑screen representation on TV, except for the UK’s Diamond project. Like Seeing Ourselves 2, UK results also highlight under‑representation of older people on screen.
  • Internationally, there are a range of initiatives by industry and governments to improve diverse representation and inclusion in the screen industry. These include campaigns and summits; diversity strategies, standards and targets; use of existing or proposed legislation; tax incentives; investment in training, skills and talent development; and reforms to screen industry awards. (See International responses in the complete Report, which is downloadable below)
  • 8 Our review is based on similar research reports that were publicly available at the time of preparing Seeing Ourselves 2. Results are not directly comparable to our on‑screen results due to different methods, categories and timeframes.
  • 9 No on‑screen representation study was identified for New Zealand. However, Māori people have been identified as an under‑represented group in the New Zealand Film Commission’s strategies.
A still from the TV series Robbie Hood, SBS
Part 4

Tools and resources

There are a range of public resources available to support diverse representation, inclusion and equity. While not an exhaustive list, Seeing Ourselves 2 presents a compilation of these, including links to protocols, toolkits, training, guidelines and strategies, related research, and the stories of Australian creatives working in inclusive storytelling.

Toolkits and resources

Guidelines, commitments and strategies

Screen Australia’s inclusive storytelling commitment

Screen Queensland’s Equity and Diversity Taskforce

The Media Federation of Australia’s 2022 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategy

Australian Film Television and Radio School’s (AFTRS) Diversity and Inclusion Policy

Australian Human Rights Commission’s best practice guidelines for recruitment and selection

The Seven and Nine Networks have diversity policies covering employees, contractors and other stakeholders, while Ten and Paramount+ work under the 'No Diversity, No Commission' policy implemented by Paramount

Related research

A2K Media and The Melbourne Disability Institute’s Disability and Screen Work in Australia (2023)

The Australian Cinematographers Society’s A Wider Lens: Australian camera workforce development and diversity (2022)

Media Diversity Australia’s Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories 2.0? (2022)

The Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association’s Diversity On and Off Screen in Australian Film Schools (2020)

Screen Australia’s Authentic Storytelling series

To keep screen practitioners informed of the evolving conversation and ways of working, Screen Australia’s Authentic Storytelling Series spotlights Australian creatives who have shared their experiences in inclusive storytelling. Issues covered in Screen Australia’s interviews, articles and podcasts include: colour‑conscious casting, the value of community collaboration, developing authentic characters and the impact of leadership.