Michael Carrington, ABC Director, Entertainment & Specialist, shares his thoughts on the ABC’s Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines.
The global discussion about diversity and inclusion has called out some glaring anachronisms on screen, more suited to the era of Downton Abbey than the 21st century. From #OscarsSoWhite to overlooking the outstanding work of female creatives, there’s much work to be done.
I’m not a huge fan of reality TV but Australian screens could do with a dose of real life. This is not about tallying up the number of faces that are white, black, brown or in between. It’s about recognising that there’s more diversity on an average suburban street than on your TV screen. And why that’s a problem.
Being exposed to different people and cultures stimulates curiosity, creativity and innovation. It expands our understanding of the world and our place within it. And, frankly, it makes for great TV, whether that’s Stateless or I May Destroy You.
You might ask: What’s a white, middle-class and, sadly, middle-aged man doing speaking out about diversity and inclusion? Well, I am also a gay man and first-generation Australian, whose father was a Russian refugee.
Growing up dirt poor in regional NSW, I was bullied because of my sexuality and my “wog” lunches. I felt alienated. There was nobody like me at school or on my television screen. So, during my teenage years I withdrew from the world.
Diversity comes in many different guises. While I cannot speak to the lived experience of women or people of colour or people living with a disability, I know what it is like to feel excluded and apart.
There is great power in realising you are not alone, that there are others like you. Feeling connected with others gives you the strength to be yourself and belong.
The people and stories we see on screen play a big role in enabling that connection. Inclusion starts with the development process and in the writers’ room. It continues in the studio or on location, behind and in front of the camera.
It’s on show in ABC programs such as The Australian Dream, Love on the Spectrum and children’s series First Day, the first scripted drama with a transgender actor in the lead role to be commissioned for Australian television.
Today, we are building on that commitment by launching commissioning guidelines to ensure more diverse faces, voices, cultures and stories are reflected and represented on screen, across genres such as drama, comedy and children’s content.
Like any broadcaster, we have to do more to be authentically inclusive.
Our Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines will enable us to do better by working with production companies to provide greater access and opportunity to under-represented people and perspectives, including Indigenous Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people living with a disability and the LGBTQI+ community.
Ensuring greater diversity and inclusion within the ABC and the wider screen industry is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
Having more diverse stories on screen offers a richer bank of programs for audiences to draw from. Whether it’s Total Control, Gogglebox or Australia’s Ninja Warrior, seeing a multitude of stories, faces, backgrounds and abilities on show makes us all stronger. It helps build empathy and understanding. It ensures audiences feel their lives and experiences are being reflected on screen.
Australia’s diversity is one of its great strengths. Our nation is constantly evolving with new ideas, perspectives and stories. It makes sense to include those different voices. For our TV screens to reflect who we are and, importantly, who we want to be.
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