HOW MANY AUSTRALIAN FILMS + TV SERIES HAVE ASIAN LEADS?
Updated: Dec 23, 2021
If you guessed zero or close to that, then it's pretty close. If the US film and tv industry can create roles and narratives for 7% of its Asian American population, then what does this all mean for 18% of Australia's total population with Asian ancestry?
Before we can answer this question adequately, let us take a look at the scripted US film and TV industry since 2020. US have made some landmark milestones to recognise and accept Asian Americans in mainstream American society.
Since the debut of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018, Hollywood's doors have swung wide open for Asian actors in leading roles across mainstream narratives of all genres. Including Sandra Oh in 'Killing Eve' (2018), Lana Condor in 'To All the Boys I've Loved Before' (2018), 'To All the Boys: P.S I Still Love You (2020), 'To All the Boys: Always and Forever (2021), Simu Liu in 'Shangchi' (2021), Ali Wong and Randall Park in 'Always Be My Maybe' (2019), Lily Singh in 'A Little Late' (2019-current), John Cho in 'Cowboy Bebop' (2021), and Jimmy O. Yang in 'Love Hard' (2021) - just to name a few.
Putting blind casting aside, how could we look past the number of accolades presented to people of Asian ancestry signifying the industry's acknowledgement and acceptance of Asians in mainstream society. Chloe Zhao winning best picture and best director at the 2020 Oscars for Nomadland, a film about mainstream American life, houseless life, that is. Zhao is certainly not the first to direct mainstream Hollywood flicks.
Remember Ang Lee? Lee has won best director twice at the Oscars for Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Life of Pi (2012).
However, that is where it ends. On the best actor and actress front, there is much to be done by the Oscars.
The most recent best actor with Asian ancestry was awarded in 1982, which was quite a while back. In fact almost 40 years ago.
If you guessed Ben Kingsley in Gandhi, then you are on the right track. However, since then we have yet to see a male lead with Asian ancestry take the spotlight again. Could it be Simu Liu's turn?
What about best actress? It's time to wind the clock back to 1935, to a woman named Merle Oberon.
Unfortunately, Oberon was the first and last actress of Asian ancestry to be nominated for best actress at the Oscars.
In the entire lifespan of the Oscars which started in 1929, no woman of Asian descent has ever won best actress. Sandra Oh and Awkwafina have not even come close despite recognition for their acting prowess at the Golden Globes.
Is it fair to say Hollywood has an Asian American talent drain? Or, perhaps there are not enough films or TV series to go around for Asian Americans?
The above general statement is strikingly absurd, considering 7% of the American population can be traced back to their Asian heritage.
Surely, there is talent out of the 22 million Americans with Asian ancestry?
Over the past decade, the US TV production line has pumped out more than 75 scripted TV series with leading Asian or co-leading Asian talent! That is an impressive statistic since the first and only Asian led TV series was produced in the 1950s. So far, the 2020s decade is taking a trailblazing lead with over 25 TV series featuring Asian leads and co-leads. If we extrapolate 2020-2021 progress into the future then by the end of 2029, there could be as many as 100 TV series with Asian leads. Now that sounds like a promising future for Asian American representation on screen.
Let's now revisit the question at the beginning of the article.
If the US film and tv industry can create roles and narratives for 7% of its Asian American population, then what does this all mean for 18% of Australia's total population with Asian ancestry?
Australia is certainly winning the proportional race, with more than double that of the US. Does this mean, Australia should have twice as many scripted TV series as the US? So, proportionally speaking then there should be more than 50 Australian TV series with Asian leads since 2020?
If we drill down to population size, 18% of Australian population is close to 4.7 million civilians with Asian ancestry. Compare this number to 7% of US population with Asian ancestry which is around 22 million civilians - you could say, Asian Americans are pretty much the population size of Australia. If we calculate the comparison with actual population size, then the US Asian population is just shy of five times more than our own.
Comparatively speaking and basing on US-Australia population and Asian American TV series production benchmarks, there should be at least 12 Australian TV series with Asian leads or co-leads since 2020.
I am racking my brains right now and struggling to name any Australian scripted TV series with an Asian lead or co-Asian leads since 2020. There was the Wiggles with Jeff, The Family Law, Homecoming Queens, Dead Lucky, Ronny Chieng International Student, Spellbinders... I am clutching at straws now given these were all prior to 2020.
Would MasterChef 2020 with co-host, Melissa Leong count?
To be honest, it is mere impossible to name more than one Australian film with an Asian lead or co-lead since 2020. Perhaps the best example is only 'Rhapsody of Love', 2021.
To date, the equivalent of an Australian Oscar event named the Logies has yet to award an Australian with Asian heritage with a Golden Logie.
Since the Logies inception in 1959, Australian newsreader, Lee Lin Chin was perhaps the best candidate of Asian descent to ever win a Logie. However, if we are clutching at straws again, Waleed Aly, could be considered on the cusp of Asia.
So the only place to search out the truth and statistics is on Wikipedia! Wiki has the answer to almost anything and everything a man and his dog could search for that would be considered a legitimate source of truth.
Or rather, a popular search site which can point you in the right direction for legitimate and peer reviewed resources.
Even Wikipedia failed to generate an answer to 'Australian TV series with Asian leads'. It certainly did for 'American TV series with Asian leads' and the list did not include MasterChef US or The Masked Singer US.
Does this mean we have a final answer?
Zero. Nay, 0. Zilch Australian TV series with Asian leads since 2020?
Unable to come to terms with a Zero Asian Hero in Australian TV series, I searched across all five Australian TV networks and what a thorough job I did scrolling through their online streaming platforms. The result for 2020-current scripted Australian TV series with Asian leads or co-leads are... drumroll....
Hungry Ghosts, 2020
The Unusual Suspects, 2021
New Gold Mountain, 2021
Unfortunately, in keeping with US standards of measure, MasterChef Australia and any Australian reality TV or news panel and game like shows fall outside the scripted TV series scope.
The results are in and despite Australia taking the lead in Asian population representation based on proportionality, 18% vs 7% for the US, we are definitely lagging behind Hollywood when those numbers are converted to Asian representation on screen to mainstream society.
18% of Australian population have Asian ancestry. Since 2020, only 3 TV series showcase an Asian lead or co-lead.
While, 7% of US population have Asian ancestry. Since 2020, the US have generated over 25 TV series that showcase an Asian lead or co-lead.
So, what is the problem then? Is it fair to say Australia has an Asian Australian talent drain? Or, perhaps there are not enough films or TV series to go around for Asian Australians? Surely, there is talent is out of the 4.7 million Australians with Asian ancestry?
The lack of Asian representation on Australian mainstream film and TV, is not dissimilar to what the US is also facing. In 2017, the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report found only two out of every 10 lead film actors (or 19.8 percent) were people of colour. By colour, it accounts for African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans and mixed. People of colour in the US have yet to reach proportional representation within the American film industry.
The story in Australia is far worse. Despite an impressive 18% Asian ancestry population, according to a report conducted in 2020, Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories, approximately 6% of presenters, commentators, and reporters have either an Indigenous or non-European background. One can only assume, the percentage of Asian Australians in scripted films and TV series are in dire straits.
There is a long way to go until we see an 18% benchmark of all Australian films and tv series to feature an Asian lead or co-lead. The 18% benchmark would reflect the same proportional representation as our Asian ancestry population.
So this begs the question. What can Australia do to fast track an under-represented part of society be part of mainstream Australian society?
More importantly, what would 18% of Australian films and TV series featuring an Asian lead or co-lead equate to?
We at CBMP love mathematics and obviously based on comparative US-Australia population size and US TV series production benchmarks, a quota of at least 5 TV series is required by the end of 2021, and at least 20 TV series by the end of 2029.
A quota of 5 TV series is in fact not technically correct either, but the bare minimum based on 7% of Asian American representation and current US TV series production benchmark showcasing Asian leads or co-leads. Given Australia's impressive 18% with Asian heritage, we should be multiplying it by at least 2.5 times.
Which means, by the end of 2021 the Australian scripted TV series should be broadcasting at least 12-13 series with an Asian lead or co-leads. If we can keep up with the American Asian golden standard, then by the end of 2029 the Australian TV industry should be close to 65 scripted TV series with an Asian lead or co-leads.
C'mon Australia. We've got this!
We will give our perspectives on how Australia can fast track in due course. Good things take time so tune into Part 2 of 'How many Australian Films + TV Series have Asian Leads" in early 2022.