Colour TV still battles a black-and-white mindset
There’s a hint of frustrated sadness in Deborah Mailman’s voice when she responds to a question about diversity on Australian television.
It’s a query the acclaimed indigenous actor has had to answer countless times over the course of her almost twodecade career — and that’s the point.
“I don’t know how many times we have to have this conversation before something changes,” Mailman says.
“It’s time and time again. There’s a bloody hell of a long way to go and it’s just appalling, to be honest.”
Change has been slow, and not close to keeping pace with audience demand for more relevant Australian stories.
She points to the success of ABC sketch show Black Comedy, in which she guest stars, as proof of a healthy appetite for diversity.
“I’ve long been championing the idea of something like this show,” she reveals.
“It’s not about just more black faces in indigenous roles. I’d like to see progress outside of culturally specific content. That’s where we need more bravery and imagination.
“It’s about opening the casting call to as many different faces as possible. It’s about people seeing beyond the character description, so actors can play any role regardless.”
Black Comedy has given a new generation of performers a chance to flex their creative muscles.
“Humour is a wonderful vehicle for breaking down barriers. It’s looking at an indigenous experience through the realm of humour. It allows audiences to understand some of the issues.
“And it’s giving people permission to laugh — you can laugh at this, it’s fine. That’s the whole point.”
In just six episodes, the debut season established a range of memorable characters — the two hilarious gay men from Townsville, the “Housewives of Narromine” and the crack team of officers in Blackforce, who police what is and isn’t black.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Now the foundation cast and a host of guest stars return for a second season.
“It’s great that Black Comedy is one of many (shows) in this expanding body of work, but I hope in time it leads to other, broader ideas,” she says. “I’m excited by the potential of what’s to come. We didn’t have these opportunities 10 or so years ago. There’s a shift — we just need it to speed up.”
BLACK COMEDY, ABC, WEDNESDAY, 9PM