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The empowering approach to making All My Friends Are Racist

The key creatives behind All My Friends Are Racist talk about the authorship that ensured a comedy like no other.

Behind the scenes of All My Friends Are Racist.Back L-R: Enoch Mailangi, Liliana Munoz, Davey Thompson and Bjorn Stewart. Front L-R: Nick Embery and Kodie Bedford.

At the heart of All My Friends Are Racist are three voices: creator/writer Enoch Mailangi, writer Kodie Bedford and director Bjorn Stewart. From there it spills outward, to heads of department encouraged to bring their own perspectives, to the fresh takes of actors like Davey Thompson and Tuuli Narkle. The result is that much-coveted ambition: entirely original, with the added joy of being both hilarious and biting in its comedy. As ScreenHub reviewer Raelee Lancaster said of the five-part digital series, “The Indigenous characters are flawed and funny, the white gaze is dismantled and mocked, and token wokeness is, finally, put to sleep.”

This creative-driven approach – and the result – is no accident. Producer Liliana Muñoz of Maximo Entertainment saw her role as a way to elevate these voices, and particularly Enoch Mailangi’s, from the outset.

Muñoz and Mailangi first crossed paths through the RAW initiative, which asked First Nations creatives between 18-35, regardless of prior credits, to submit original concepts to be potentially turned into an online series. It was managed by Muñoz, financed by Artology, and creatively assessed by AFTRS Indigenous and First Nations filmmakers Leah Purcell and Wayne Blair, who were also champions of the initiative (Purcell would go on to act in and executive produce All My Friends Are Racist with Bain Stewart through Oombarra Productions). Enoch was one of three creatives selected from those submissions.

Muñoz can remember Enoch’s voice and concept coming through so clearly on the page.

“It just felt so fresh and young. The paragraph they pitched was the core of what All My Friends Are Racist is today, so that never got lost. It was about friendship. It was about two young Aboriginal kids that were living in the city and living life as two Zoomers do,” she says.

All My Friends Are Racist follows BFF’s Casey (Davey Thompson) and Belle (Tuuli Narkle) who call out their circle of friends in Brisbane as racists but end up getting cancelled themselves.

Mailangi says the idea came from cancel culture, with the title itself referencing “the youtube clickbaityness of vlogs depicting millionaire influencers arguing/apologising over really intense social issues.”

“I think fundamentally we've learned from this world that you can actually profit via getting cancelled if it warrants enough views, which is a twisted joke, but a joke nonetheless!” Mailangi says over email. (Read more about the concept through this Vice piece here).

They point to videos such as the 41-minute YouTube video No More Lies from James Charles, Addressing All The Hate We've Received from YouTubers Cole and Sav LaBrant after backlash from a prank, and Jeffrey Stars' apology video just being titled ‘RACISM.' 

“There's this pseudo-vulnerability that I just find funny and wanted to lean into. It's very camp, ridiculous, gives me ancient Rome vibes, and once you start to critically engage with it makes you realise, ‘oh, they're actually laughing at us’. So we might laugh at the descent of Casey and Belle, but behind closed doors, they're laughing at you. And well, that's because they can.”

Still from All My Friends Are Racist.All My Friends Are Racist

The concept was developed by Mailangi through the RAW initiative and over time Muñoz was able to secure support from ABC Indigenous, Screen Australia and Screen Queensland. By 2018 they were building a writers’ room, which is when another important piece of the puzzle arrived in writer Kodie Bedford.

“It’s not often a gift lands in your lap, but that’s what happened when I was sent Enoch’s original pilot script for All My Friends Are Racist,” Bedford said in a statement.

“Sure it had a catchy title, a zany commentary on our world and a sh*tload of laugh-out-loud one-liners, but what truly drew me to it was the friendship between Belle and Casey; the heart of the series.”

Bedford joined the writing team and also script produced and co-executived produced the series. Muñoz says both Bedford and Mailangi were in every meeting and room possible from that day on, whether that was on set, or in the edit suite, “because the vision stays true.”

Part of the reason why Muñoz says this creative-driven method was so successful on All My Friends Are Racist is because of the third key collaborator: director Bjorn Stewart.

Mailangi was drawn to Stewart’s vision, having watched his horror short Killer Native and been “galvanized by the humour that was part of his film lexicon.” 

“I hadn't seen anything like it before,” Mailangi says, calling their collaboration on All My Friends Are Racist a “perfect creative fit.” 

Stewart says he had a lot of nervousness at first. “It’s a Queer Blak story and I’m a hetro cis-gendered man. Yeah, I follow a similar theme of the show, being Indigenous navigating through inner city life but who am I to tell a LGBTQIA+ story?” he wrote in a director’s statement.

Part of that was having long consultations with Mailangi and Bedford to ensure they got the best interpretation of the comedy-packed script and to have both writers on set throughout filming. To make sure they gave Mailangi’s story justice, Stewart also told Screen News he made it a priority to hire LGBTQIA+ and/or First Nations and people of colour for the Heads of Department, production and post-production crew.

“On day one, I said to my heads of department, ‘this is very much your show as it is mine as it is Enoch's. We want to make Enoch's voice really shine through this, so I'm interested in what you bring to the table. Show me, take control of it.’,” he says.

“And they did. They really went for it.”

Bjorn Stewart on the set of All My Friends Are Racist.Director Bjorn Stewart on the set of All My Friends Are Racist

Stewart says there’s sometimes a narrative that props up the voice of the director singularly, which ignores the fact that filmmaking is a team effort.

“If you're the director, you're the mitigator and the person who makes it come alive by championing everybody else around you. That was my approach really to this, just making everybody feel comfortable and be heard,” he says.

Bedford says the series was one of those rare experiences where the creative team, crew, producers and executives were all on the same page. 

“We all knew this was special for many reasons; because of the representation, because of the pushing of boundaries, because we, particularly Bjorn, Enoch and I, were all allowed put our creative souls into it and just go crazy,” she says, crediting Muñoz for not pushing back on this – “in fact she embraced it.”

Muñoz says this creative-first approach to producing isn’t the only way to make projects, but she hopes to see more of it, especially from emerging producers. It’s certainly going to be her preference going forward.

“Maybe the discussions will be perhaps not as simple because there would be more at stake [if it’s not] a web series, but now at least we can say that we have evidence that it works,” she says.

She notes that for emerging producers like herself, that will mean partnering with well-established production companies and making sure everyone is on board with the approach at the very beginning of the process.

“So with All My Friends are Racist, we partnered with Hoodlum Entertainment, who were the perfect partner because they got it. The discussion was that the creative stays with the creator. They got it.”

It might not work for every producer.

“There's many, many ways of creating things,” Muñoz says. “You might know one way works: perfect. If that's the kind of producer that you are, do it that way. But if you want to try different things, then this is an alternative…

“[But] you do have to find the right people to do it with, the right project and receive the right championing and support as well, so we got lucky with all of those with All My Friends Are Racist.”

Watch All My Friends Are Racist on ABC iview now.