“Here are the cold hard numbers from Middle Earth: • Almost 12% of New Zealand's population is Asian • Over 25% of Auckland, NZ's most populous city where we live, is Asian • Only 1% of our TV producers, 2% of our TV directors and 4% of our TV writers identify as Asian • We make decent volumes of local film and TV, but we hardly ever see Asian actors on screen, and when we do, they're young female Asians.” – Roseanne Liang, Director - writing in the Angry Asian Man Blog.
And in order to succeed in the industry some of those young female Asian “sisters” (in the words of the Eurythmics) “- are doin' it for themselves.. !”
WARNING: strong language and mature themes
Micro-aggression, interracial relationships and penis size are explored in the episode Guess I’m coming to dinner from the comedy web series Friday Night Bites. The episode takes the mickey out of the 1967 classic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the US comedy-drama starring Sidney Poitier as the black boyfriend being introduced to the parents.
In this case it’s actor Tian Tan playing Aaron in this episode as the “steaming hot” new Chinese boyfriend being introduced to the parents (Adam Gardiner and Lisa Chappell).
Want to see more “hot Chinese actors” like Tian Tan? They would be in demand on our screens and stages, if only given the chance to audition. And it seems being proactive is not enough because, despite our fast changing demographics, actors from ethnic communities struggle to establish a presence.
The lack of representation is such a big problem that this year, Roseanne Liang, the director of Friday Night Bites, was compelled to protest in the Angry Asian Man blog that, in spite of her many achievements in New Zealand’s television and film industry, she sometimes thinks she should have stayed at medical school.
Filipino New Zealander James Roque and Eurasian New Zealander Chye-Ling Huang created Proudly Asian Theatre (originally Pretty Asian Theatre) when they graduated from drama school three years ago.
Why was PAT created? To address that lack of diversity, to provide a platform and opportunities for Asian practitioners and subject matters, to give a platform to little-heard voices and to bust stereotypes.
Roseanne, Chye-Ling and James told Voices how tough it is to make a living in the industry and how the roles for Asians are just too few and far between - and often just “suck".
“If you examine our prime time TV shows it’s very hard to find an Asian face. It’s also the quality of representation,” James says.
“What do they tell us about what it means to be Asian in New Zealand? Every dude in a lab coat spraying weeds?”
“The demand is there.” Chye-Ling argues, “If we’re not given the opportunities, how can we grow?”
It's Christmas, what changes would they wish for?
“For the industry to truly embrace the multitude of Asian identities that are out there and to give us a chance and recognise the talent that already exists,” Chye-ling says.
“It’s recognition of the value of telling stories that aren’t so monochrome – and the value of inclusivity, what kind of impact on people growing up in this country.
“People don’t realise the power they have when they make something. It’s going to be viewed by millions and yet you see the same white family drama, rich people going about their business. How is that relevant to 90 percent of the population?
"The role models and people you cast and stories you tell will change people’s lives. I saw Mulan when I was like 12, but that was the only thing I had. It made me feel strong, it made me feel powerful. It had a huge impact on me. The industry (needs) to recognise that’s the power they have and use it for good, and put more Asians in people’s faces!"
“Comedy gives you an outlet to talk about stuff that is probably offensive" says Roseanne of her Friday Night Bites episode, 'Slutwalk the Musical'.
"We’re not going to shy away from the issues we want to talk about, like rape culture.”
“[That episode] subverts that stereotype that Asian people are polite, that Asian women are submissive,” James says.
And in response to the film and theatre industry claiming to be diverse: “You need to earn the right to call yourself diverse. You’re claiming credit for something you haven’t done. I’m calling you out!," James says.
“And stop desexualising Asian men. I take big issue with that. The only Asian dudes you see on TV are weird and you wouldn’t want to date them. That’s one narrative I take huge issue with. I know at least three hot Asian men!”