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.”


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