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Multicultural casting: Miranda Tapsell triggers groundswell

When Miranda Tapsell accepted her Logie awards she triggered a tidal wave of support.

Who knew a Logie acceptance speech could have such impact? When Miranda Tapsell accepted her two awards for Love Child with comments urging broadcasters to ‘put more beautiful people of colour on TV and connect viewers in ways which transcend race and connect us’ she triggered a tidal wave of support across social media and the industry.

Tapsell’s speech was not a spontaneous outburst in the heat of the moment. It was a carefully considered call to arms, refined with colleagues and friends.

“I wanted to say something positive, not make anyone uncomfortable,’ says Tapsell. “I grew up in Kakadu where I was made to feel valued and beautiful. But as I fell in love with rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones I felt like their message was that I didn’t deserve the kind of love they were about because I didn’t look like Cameron Diaz or Katherine Heigl. But those are the roles I want to be cast in.”

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason was at the Logies and remembers “It was a defining moment. Everyone embraced Miranda’s sentiments so warmly.”

Mason sees Screen Australia as having to be part of the solution.

Miranda Tapsell won the Best New Talent and Most Outstanding Newcomer Logies Miranda Tapsell won the Best New Talent and Most Outstanding Newcomer Logies
“We are looking at what we should do as a major funding contributor to production. We are going to be having conversations with our key partners, like the ABC and SBS, but everyone has to get on board. We have to be both the carrot and the stick: we need broadcasters to see that they should be doing it and that it’s also smart to do it because it’s a reflection of who their audiences are.

“Today we can see that women in general are quite well represented now on our TV screens – but that took time. If you look at who is carrying the major shows, they are women like Asher Keddie and Claudia Karvan. TV is still streets ahead of film in terms of gender balance…. although Mad Max: Fury Road has given female film presence a huge boost. But there’s more to be done.

“Now we need to ask: where is our broader cultural mix? Where are the faces of the subcontinent and Asia? Are our acting institutions taking in students from those communities?"

Casting agent Anousha Zarkesh has been at the forefront of sourcing Indigenous talent for landmark series like Redfern Now and sees its success, and the earlier popularity of The Sapphires as breaking the mould.

“Before that, you had Ernie Dingo as the first blackfella to become mainstream on Getaway, then Aaron Pederson in Wildside, and Deborah Mailman in The Secret Life of Us and Offspring but they were isolated cases.

Miranda Tapsell stars as Martha in <em>Love Child</em> Miranda Tapsell stars as Martha in Love Child
“Every time I suggest actors for certain roles I always give directors a variety of ethnic/white choices so that we can discuss this openly and then present to the network. The ‘men in suits’ need to know that a show with non anglo actors as leads will rate. But I don’t believe in quotas as the industry is just too small. It has to happen out of goodwill but I do feel now that there is a willingness from producers and directors to think outside the ‘white’ box.

“I’ve just finished casting The Principal for Kriv Stenders (Red Dog), a drama series set in a boys school in Punchbowl. Ninety per cent of the cast were ethnic. Some roles were written as specifically Lebanese (which is important for the story) but others could be any nationality. Because they lived in Western Sydney, we decided to reflect the real society they lived in and cast Asian, Maori and Islander actors.’

Matchbox Pictures producer Tony Ayres (Maximum Choppage, The Family Law) has been a long time campaigner for diversity and holds passionate views on the subject.

“I feel strongly about this because it’s my background, whereas for others it’s an afterthought. As far as Indigenous visibility, there has been a concerted, conscious campaign by government agencies to develop talent and now we are seeing how the support has paid off. It has created a sustainable ecosystem of Indigenous production.

“I believe legislation is necessary to achieve the same thing now with ethnic diversity. It should be a condition of funding. I am in favour of quotas, as they have been used elsewhere without affecting the market’s appetite. Resistance to positive discrimination falls away when you see that it has no negative impact on viewing audiences.

“For a long time I’ve been a champion of colour-blind casting but it’s not always the answer. You have to be more pro-active than that in order to create a talent pool that gives actors the chance to develop their range, get lead roles and grow fan bases. We need to be training talent and fast tracking the stand out performers just as the Indigenous production programs did. Then we’ll get the same results.”