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Authentic Storytelling – Ana Tiwary: How authenticity can thrive in the screen community

Authenticity is a journey not a destination. It needs awareness combined with action at every stage from idea to distribution. To facilitate this we need to create certain conditions.

Ana Tiwary headshotAna Tiwary

In the Authentic Storytelling series, members of the Australian screen sector share their thoughts on why authenticity is important, challenges they have faced, and how the industry can do better. Subscribe to Screen Australia’s newsletter for additions to the series.

Ana Tiwary is a Sydney based producer/director and runs the production company indiVisual films that specialises in multicultural stories. Ana holds a Masters in Film from the US, and has lived/worked in many different parts of the world including Germany, India, West Africa, North America and she immigrated to Australia 15 years ago. From Bollywood films, TV shows and commercials, to National Geographic Channel, Ana has experience working across factual as well as scripted. She has produced over 25 documentaries for ABC TV and other international networks. Last year, along with Joy Hopwood, Ana produced the first Asian Australian rom-com ‘Rhapsody of Love’. Presently she is developing a TV comedy series, ‘What would Suki do?’ with writer/producer Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and 'Just Chidi Things' with actor/writer Chika Ikogwe. She has recently produced the pilot for the series 'Mother Tongue' with writer/director Katrina Irawati Graham. In 2015, Ana was selected by Screen Producers Australia for their ‘Ones to Watch’ program. Ana participated in the inaugural Screen Australia ‘Developing the Developer’ program and in 2019 she was selected for ‘Screen Australia Talent Plus’, which involved an attachment at See-Saw Films and mentorship with Emile Sherman (King’s Speech, Lion). She recently worked as series producer on the new ABC show iNDIA NOW!. Ana created the Diversity in Australian Media community almost 13 years ago and is an advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice and safe spaces. She works part-time at the Australian Directors’ Guild as Strategy & Development Executive. Ana has served as a Women in Film & TV (WIFT) Australia board member, is part of the Screen Australia Gender Matters Task Force and mentors emerging filmmakers.

I care deeply about First Nations, people of colour, LGBTQI, disability and other forms of representation. I constantly learn and draw inspiration from the crucial work of so many. Although the scope of this article is limited to conditions that allow authentic representation of cultural diversity on Australian screens, I hope that many of the principles are relevant to the essential work in other areas of historically marginalised people.

Almost thirteen years ago, I started a Facebook community 'Diversity in Australian Media'. Its purpose is to create awareness around issues faced by marginalised filmmakers and also to advocate for better representation. At the beginning one or two articles might be shared in a month amongst a handful of people. There are now close to five thousand members, with a rising interest, active engagement and a growing vibrant community. This month 156 posts were shared, debated and discussed across 322 comments and 3,069 reactions.

Cast and crew on set for Rhapsody of LoveRhapsody of Love cast and crew


As the community has grown and the demands for better representation have become stronger, I have seen some shifts in the screen industry and clear patterns of behaviour have emerged.

These patterns aren’t always linear. They overlap and coexist. This is how the dial seems to be slowly shifting away from power imbalance and towards authenticity. In describing this, I express my gratitude to all the powerful advocacy and sacrifice of many bold and dedicated creators who have been pushing the industry to tell more diverse stories for many decades.

Here is the shape of change that I have observed over the past 15 years.

EXCLUSION: Diverse stories were rare

About fifteen years ago, representation of multicultural communities was rare on Australian screens. Representation behind the cameras was even worse. Simply speaking publicly about lack of diversity took courage. When Graeme Mason joined as the CEO of Screen Australia in 2013, he encouraged producers to start taking diversity seriously, it was an important step forward. But there was still a long journey ahead.

EXTRACTION: Diverse characters begin to appear but are created inauthentically

I started to see a slight shift, with production companies, networks and funding bodies making an attempt to add more diversity. A few multicultural characters started to emerge on our screens. New problems arose with inauthentic stories being created in extractive ways. The process failed to truly change power dynamics or build careers for the minority voices they claimed to represent. Marginalised communities were being ‘mined’ for their stories and people of colour were largely locked out of the creative process.

EXPLOITATION: Diverse creatives begin to be included but exploitation is rampant

With further advocacy for inclusion in development and production, I started to see some effort by production companies to engage marginalised filmmakers in below the line roles. On the surface this looked like progress but behind the scenes, minority creatives continued to be sidelined without any meaningful engagement. There were cases of shallow involvement, late engagement, community exclusion and cultural consultancy being used as a loophole to bypass minorities being engaged in above the line roles - such as writers, directors or producers.

INCLUSION: Diverse creatives are included in the rooms but do not hold any power or creative freedom

About five years ago, I started to see an increase in discussions around the need to move away from cultural consulting towards genuine inclusion. We started to see more diverse writers’ rooms, with meaningful engagement and proper screen credits. But sadly I heard of many cases where the inclusion was conditional - ‘yes we will include you but on our terms and only those who don't challenge the status quo’. Creatives are included but power/money and creative control is still not shared with creatives of colour. There is an expectation of assimilation.  It’s inclusion, but on their terms.

AUTHENTIC COLLABORATION: systemic shift, social justice, sharing of power, profits & credits

What I am seeing now is that the screen sector is becoming more aware about cultural competency and authentic representation. This change is not inevitable. It hasn’t happened as a natural growth.  It has come from consistent pressure and advocacy from underrepresented creatives themselves. There is a push to fund producers of colour, to enable creative freedom and to move towards self-determination. This is creating a systemic shift of power across the arts, paving the way for us to tell our own unique stories on our own terms - authentically.


Authenticity can mean different things to different people. To me, a culturally authentic story has certain essential qualities such as:

  • Cultural Integrity: The story emerges from a place of truth and deep understanding of the culture being represented. It is not just surface level truth in visuals, language or accents, but a deeper historical, political, spiritual, narrative, moral and emotional connection. The creators are aware of ongoing colonisation and the work is created with this deep understanding and respect for Indigenous communities.
  • Story Sovereignty: The story is told by those, with lived experience - the creative, financial and narrative control stays in the hands of those who belong to the culture being presented. By having an insider point of view and a culturally competent team, we ensure that story sovereignty is at the heart of the narrative.
  • Community Trust: The community that is represented can relate to the work. They feel seen and heard in their complexity. Not only can they trust the storyteller, they feel safe that they will be represented as whole and nuanced characters with dignity, not as stereotypes. Viewers can then respect the creators, characters and ultimately, they are able to immerse themselves in the story world.


There is an international demand for multicultural films and series. For Australian stories to be relevant in this global context we need to value cultural knowledge and create an environment where authentic stories can thrive.

As a migrant woman producer/director who has worked in the screen industry in many different parts of the world, I have identified certain prerequisites that are necessary to create something truly authentic for our viewers. I would like to share them with you here.

  • Sharing of Power: What I have learned is that it is not enough to have a diverse team. On a deeper level, it is important to identify who holds the power in the company/organisation/project and who is vulnerable to exploitation. There is a need to move away from colonial practices that take control away from people of colour and ask: ‘Am I extracting or exploiting the community? How will creative, financial and narrative power be shared in how the film or series is made?’ At my production company, indiVisual films, I am committed to sharing copyright, profits and producer credits with my collaborators, especially writers, and ensuring that those with lived experience have creative, narrative and financial control.
  • Values Statement: Instead of jumping straight into a project, I slow down and create a values statement that clearly defines the guiding principles behind how the project will be made. The journey is as important as the destination, so it is important to make space for authenticity to drive every aspect of the production. On the web-series Mother Tongue that I am producing with Katrina Irawati Graham, we are preparing guiding principles that will clearly state the values we want the entire team to uphold and how community will be at the heart of the series.
  • Culturally-Competent Producers: When a producer lacks cultural competency, they risk causing harm to the creatives on their team and to the audiences they hope to reach. A culturally competent producer is one who becomes a champion for the writer's authentic voice. Aesthetics and authenticity are not mutually exclusive. If the project needs to hire cultural consultants perhaps it doesn’t have a true connection to the culture for whom it is trying to speak. Unless, of course, the key team in control of the project is already diverse and the cultural consultant is only required for a very small section of the story or for specific cultural advice.
  • Awareness of Cultural Tropes: All screenwriters need to have a deep understanding of racial stereotypes, tropes and cliches. We cannot create authentic stories without characters who are well-developed and complex. There are many resources available for this, including those shared regularly on the Diversity in Australian Media page. Often characters of colour are presented as one-dimensional caricatures, passive and subordinate. Furthermore, intersectionality needs to be factored in to ensure that the dynamics of how gender, class or ethnicity collide to create extra layers of complexity. At the moment I am working with Chika Ikogwe on Just Chidi Things, a comedy series where the characters are Nigerian-Australian. Nigerian culture is intrinsically part of the storyworld but it is not foregrounded with exaggerated cultural tropes. It is unapologetically true to itself, super funny without being self-deprecating and does not attempt to justify, contrast or define itself against white culture.
  • Working with Communities: When minority communities have not been represented for decades, there needs to be a sense of responsibility in how they are depicted. Even if you have a diverse team, research must include engagement with the community that is being represented, embracing the multitude of points of views within each community. I believe in making our work ‘with the community’ rather than ‘about a community’. These community engagement strategies will be different for each project. Before I started filming the documentary Turban Legends, I spent many months connecting with members of the Sikh community and Sikh Youth Groups across Australia and listened deeply to what stories they wanted to share. I also mentored and hired Simran Gill, an emerging filmmaker from the Sikh community, to work as Associate Producer. This genuine engagement was crucial to the success of the documentary, making it the highest rating documentary that year for ABC Compass but more importantly the wonderful feedback from the Sikh community will always remain a highlight for me. 
  • Cultural Safety: I believe strongly that we must have protocols in place to ensure that the entire process is culturally safe and trauma informed for all members of the crew and cast. It is also crucial to investigate what sort of impact the film or show will have on the viewers. What we put on our screens has real life consequences for people on our streets. We have a responsibility that goes way beyond ratings and box office returns. In the Diversity in Australian Media group, I have created a job posting rule that requires anyone advertising positions to also include a cultural safety statement. As a producer, I create bespoke cultural safety documents that are responsive to the specific needs of each project.
  • Funding, Decision Makers & Gate Keepers: Authenticity cannot exist without systemic shift towards decision makers who represent the population that they serve. I want to see those in power trusting creators from minority backgrounds as talented, capable, rich in experience and exciting. Two big questions to ask are: ‘how much funding is awarded to marginalised filmmakers? Are they being trusted to work independently?’ The First Nations division at Screen Australia has been doing remarkable work in funding projects led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers. A possible solution might be the creation of a similar division that provides funding exclusively to other marginalised filmmakers.
  • Identifying your Audience: What I am seeing is a need to create stories that cater to the under-served multicultural communities of Australia. Clearly identifying who the audience will be from the early stages of development will help in creating authentic characters and story-worlds without defaulting to white audiences as the norm. When we look at world cinema, we know that white audiences also enjoy stories that are told from a culturally diverse lens. What Would Suki Do? is a series I am developing with super talented Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and while we are very clear that the story will be told from the lens of a Brown girl, we are confident that white audiences will also fall in love with these characters. The more we open ourselves to Sukhjit’s unique, culturally specific voice, the more generously we invite all audiences into her world.
  • Marketing and Distribution: It is important to ensure that authentic stories are marketed and distributed in a genuine way to attract the right audience to the film. Often monocultural publicity and marketing teams do not know how to promote a culturally diverse story or how to attract multicultural audiences. This is a sure-shot way to lose a large portion of the audience and when the film fails at the box office or doesn’t get good ratings, the filmmaker/film/diversity is labelled as a failure, not the marketing team who failed to reach the primary audience. When we produced Rhapsody of Love - the first Asian Australian rom-com, Joy Hopwood and I consciously decided to market it ourselves through our various community networks. It was clear that most of the traditional distributors would not know how to reach Asian communities. Our strategy was successful as we had a full house for most of our screenings in various cities across Australia.
  • Broadcasters, Platforms and Exhibitors: I would argue that we don’t just need a local content quota, but also a sub-quota for underrepresented storytellers, producers, writers and directors. Broadcasters and exhibitors need to be savvy about attracting diverse audiences by recognising that authentic stories have huge audience potential. Screen Australia’s 19/20 Annual Report found that the highest-rating Screen Australia-supported adult TV dramas in 2019/20 were Mystery Road series 2 (ABC) which averaged 1.2 million viewers and Total Control (ABC) which averaged 1 million viewers.
  • Diverse Critics and Reviewers: Cultural awareness should be a prerequisite for all film & TV reviewers. It is important to look into who made the film, whether they have lived experience and what stereotypes and tropes have been used in the work. To ensure more diversity among film reviewers, I have partnered with ScreenHub/ArtsHub and Diversity Arts Australia to publish 20 reviews by culturally diverse writers. It is important to have a pool of diverse reviewers to ensure that cultural nuance is appreciated.
  • Film Schools, Films Festivals and Awards: For authenticity in our industry to thrive, film schools, festivals and awards need to look into their selection criteria and examine how they view merit, privilege and class. If we look at the Gold Coast Film Festival, we will see that they have a clear policy to include 50% films made by women. This includes meeting access needs of women, such as being the first festival to offer creches during events. Creating clear quotas and considering the needs of historically excluded groups, helps create a level playing field.
  • Industry Guilds, Unions and Organisations: Industry guilds, unions and organisations need to do better in protecting diverse creators, especially those from marginalised groups, to be able to fight exploitation and theft of ideas, credits and funding. All organisations need to ensure that their work is intersectional and does not exclude sections of society. I work part-time at the Australian Directors’ Guild and we ensure that diversity is embedded in all our programs, events and policies. I have created the ADG Directory, where producers and production companies can find suitable directors for their projects based on various intersectional criteria such as language, cultural background, location and age.  

Still from Mother Tongue, two women hold a baby.Mother Tongue

Stories are powerful and can be used to cause harm but also to heal. It is not just about telling untold stories,  it is about how they are told, who gets to tell them, and what opportunities for social change are missed when the people who have lived experience don’t get to tell them. What marginalised screen practitioners need is to be trusted with proper funding and the independence to tell Australian stories in their full complex and colourful glory.

I believe that if we want authentic stories to thrive, we need industry-wide transformation that ensures the way we operate is authentic, equitable and centres social justice. By doing this,  we will see multiple benefits. For instance, careers of marginalised filmmakers will be built in a meaningful way with proper credits and profits. All audiences, including white viewers, will benefit from embracing the full richness of this multicultural nation. Audiences who have been rendered invisible or presented in inauthentic ways, will finally feel seen and their humanity acknowledged. Children from all backgrounds in Australian schools will feel like they belong in this country too. Most importantly, healing can begin.   

Ana would like to acknowledge editing support for this article from Katrina Irawati Graham and research as well as proof-reading help from Riti Ramanujachari.

The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Screen Australia.