Erin Chew is a dreamer. She has shined in the spotlight at her high school plays, always clinching the role as the tree or the pot plant. No matter how much she tried out for the roles of the heroine in Romeo and Juliet, Desdemona in Othello, and vie for the role of Anna in The King and I, she just never made the cut. Seventeen years later, this same girl though much more matured, has used this disappointment to give back to the community. In 2013, Erin co – founded the Asian Australian Alliance (AAA), a grassroots advocacy network with the aim to empower the entire Asian Australian community and raise concerns and projects over common issues. Over the years, AAA has grown to have a women’s forum, young leaders program, and a LGBTIQ network. In 2016, AAA launched a new academics alliance with the purpose of linking academia with social activism. Erin has run many national campaigns which have attracted mainstream media attention. She is also a free-lance writer, focusing on racism, diversity and social activism. Here, Erin reflects on the history of Asian Australian media and the importance of the breakthrough show, The Family Law, which is being hailed as the start of a revolution against stereotyped Australian media.
In Australia, it is common to see Asian Australians on television, so really what are we complaining about? Just switch on the TV on any given night and you will find unsuspecting Asians being caught at airport customs for bringing in fresh, unpackaged food from Asia on Border Security, being breath tested on Highway Patrol, or being arrested for a huge drug bust and/or being caught as illegal migrant workers on AFP (Australian Federal Police). And to turn up the notch just a little bit more and highlight our positive roles, we are always in the final ten of every MasterChef Australia series. Of course, we are also portrayed as nasty, gossiping women in My Restaurant Rules, and as backward, traditional people on soapies such as Neighbours, where an Indian Australian brother and sister from the Kapoor family were sent to India after the character Priya Kapoor was portrayed as a conniving seductress and husband stealer. And this is just TV shows. In the area of journalism, unless you watch the government funded ABC and SBS, you will never see Asian Australians as news anchors or weather report readers, and you seldom see any as reporters on the ground.
But these are just the disaster stories, which interestingly enough take up most of the Asian Australian television airtime. Like anything else, it is not all doom and gloom, and there have been small strides in the fight for better diversity in Australia’s media industry. Among the growing number of Asian Australian cooking shows, singing and performing reality television shows, and playing the role of an immigrant, there really has not been a show until now which talks about the lives of Asian Australians, not as a documentary, but in a digestible and light-hearted way.
I had always thought that Australia was behind in the game of producing shows like this. The US produces shows such as Fresh off the Boat, which I closely followed as it told the story of the young Eddie Huang moving with his family from DC to Orlando in the hope to live the all-American dream, and of Eddie’s father, Louis, opening a cowboy steakhouse and his mother Jessica, a tiger mum who attempts to indoctrinate her sons and family with traditional Chinese values. Therefore, I am excited that Australia’s The Family Law, a drama-comedy based on the bestselling memoir of the same name, is our version of Fresh off the Boat, as it touches on similar themes and is hitting our screens on January 14, 2016.
The Family Law follows the life of the then 14 year old Benjamin Law, who in his own right is now a successful freelance journalist, author, screenwriter and media personality. In the show, he navigates through teenage life, playing clarinet and obsessing over becoming a TV star. Growing up in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in the 1990s, coming-of-age wasn’t easy for Ben as he deals with the antics of his somewhat dysfunctional and sprawling Chinese Australian family of seven. He is often confronted with reconciling both his cultural and sexual identities. The show will attempt to unravel and give hilarious insight into the Law family, as Benjamin tries to patch the family’s relationships in the midst of tensions, separation, dramas, and dysfunction, which usually end in horror and disaster. Each episode of this six-part series focuses on various events of Ben’s dream and how he engages his family to be involved in a bid to be seen as normal Australians and his struggle to keep his family together. You can read more on each episode via the episode guide.
His mother, Jenny, the matriarch of the family like Jessica Huang from Fresh off the Boat, tries to bring up her children the Chinese way fearing they will lose their culture growing up in Australia. Ben and his four siblings resist their mother’s life teachings, feeling embarrassed as they try to find their place as Australians.
The show does not just offer laughs, but it also has a lot of depth and emotion. The Family Law looks into the psyche of what it is to be Chinese Australian, and how ABCs (Australian born Chinese) like me finally find out where we belong as Australians. I know Benjamin Law personally, and definitely consider him a friend and someone who truly represents the “correct stereotypes” as an Asian Australian in the media spotlight.
However, this is 2016, and we are only at the beginning in the fight for more cultural diversity in the media. The Family Law is definitely a great start and will revolutionise Australian media, but it is still a far cry from where we should be considering Asians make up approximately 9.8% of Australia’s population. Let’s hope that projects like this will inspire and empower a new generation of Asian Australians to produce shows, programs, movies, and performances which will ultimately change the landscape of the industry.
Remember, You Offend Me You Offend My Australian Family Too.
Episode 1 of The Family Law will premiere on the SBS Australia Facebook page for one weekend only from 5pm this Friday 8th January, for viewers living in Australia.