One only needs to look at Australia’s reality television landscape to understand why diversity and representation in the entertainment industry is still an issue in 2020.
While three of the four grand finalists on ‘The Voice’ are culturally diverse contestants, the first three housemates to be evicted from ‘Big Brother’ have been people of colour. As ‘MasterChef’ celebrates multiculturalism through diverse contestants and a female Asian judge, ‘Bachelor In Paradise’ has premiered this week on the same TV network with only two POC vying for love.
This would indicate we appreciate POC’s food, we love to see them perform on stage, but we don’t want to hear about their personal life or dating experiences.
Earlier this week former ‘Bachelorette’ contestant Carlos Fang claimed he was cast in the 2016 season as the “token guy”.
“It’s your advantage because you know there’s always one person cast to represent that mix but it’s likely to be a disadvantage for the final outcome of the show. Rarely is there a person of colour standing there at the end of the season,” the Chinese Australian told HuffPost Australia.
According to a former Australian reality TV producer, casting agents for shows like ‘The Bachelor’ don’t necessarily “set out to cast a token diversity contestant”, but it’s often perceived by the major networks that “casting a BIPOC in an intimate role is making a statement and isn’t going to sell”.
“One thing in casting is they try to match the suitor’s preferences, so often you do get some filler cast that doesn’t align with those preferences,” said the producer, who requested to remain anonymous. “Unfortunately we’ve seen the pattern that produces.”
They said striking a balance between the contestants is often key to attracting and maintaining audiences and advertisers.
“Knowing how these shows work, the network only cares about ratings so if there is a main focus like a suitor on a dating show, often they find someone they believe to be ‘uncontroversial’,” the producer said.
“I think systematic racism in this country extends to our TV screens. It’s kind of fucked to think that the majority of audiences are fine watching BIPOC contestants perform for them but not fall in love.”
Last year ‘Love Island’ contestant Tea Fraser, the second Black woman to be on the Australian series, said on-screen diversity could be difficult to achieve if minorities don’t audition in the first place.
“Some people don’t feel that’s something they want to do because with reality TV, it’s a bit hard to put yourself out there,” she told HuffPost Australia in October, before admitting she was also apprehensive about signing up for the show. “I saw the applications coming up so early and I put it off and then I finally decided to apply.”
Her co-star Cynthia Taylu said she auditioned to set an example for other young women of colour, who “can be a bit scared of putting themselves out there and doing particular things because they feel as though people won’t accept them because of their colour”.
“For me, I watched the show last year and that was something that I noticed, ‘Oh there’s not really much diversity’,” she said. “Obviously I did go on the show to find love but I also thought it would be really cool for someone of my background to go on a show that’s about love.”
Meanwhile this year’s ‘Big Brother’ has five white contestants remaining. The first three to be eliminated were Korean man Soobong Hwang, Fijian-Australian Laura Coriakula and Chinese-Australian Allan Liang. They were eliminated by their co-stars. So does this reflect mainstream Australia? Laura thinks so.
“Think about a workplace, the ethnics immediately draw together as a team. Inside the house, obviously Angela and Allan were the only two people I thought I could relate to,” she said last month.
“There’s this kind of unspoken language where we will immediately band and respect each other knowing when you’re in the presence of a lot of white people.”
Laura explained she could “instantly” relate to her fellow culturally diverse housemates, however “it’s a bit more of a slow burn when it comes to creating a connection with a white person because I’m trying to filter out, ‘Okay are you racist or do you get it?’”
Big Brother Australia’s second Indian contestant Priya Malik placed fourth in the 2014 series.
“Race can play a part in [lack of] popularity for a mainstream Aussie show however this was proven wrong when I became a finalist,” she told HuffPost Australia. “In saying that, a lot of racist slurs were used for me [by viewers] when I appeared on the show. Although maybe it was also because I was so unapologetically Indian, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”
If things are to change, it has to come from up top, said our anonymous producer.
“There needs to be more diverse heads of studio, heads of programming, heads of network,” they said. “Queer, body positive and BIPOC people are hideously under represented in leadership positions in the entertainment industry and it’s why there isn’t more diversity in our talent. It needs a shake up.”