When it is questioned how television ‘represents’ Australian culture and everyday life, there are instant and typical connections to soap operas such as Neighbours and Home and Away, both of which showcase and explore the typical yet dramatic lifestyles of stereotypical Australians. However, it is clear that this representation does not align with Australia’s cultural reality. Australia is one of the most multicultural nations on Earth, with 48% of the population was born, or has at least one parent who was born overseas (Screen Australia 2016 p.7).
The issue is only 18% of main characters in Australian television dramas have non-Anglo Celtic backgrounds compared to the 32% reality of the Australian population (Screen Australia 2016, De Gabriele 2016). Why is this happening? Survey results from a range of writers in response to Screen Australia’s 2016 study show that there is a variety of reasons, or rather ‘excuses’. One response outlined conflict in what seems to be a deficit of experience, where Anglo-Celtic “‘star’ actors with high levels of experience aren’t able to work effectively with actors of different cultural backgrounds and lower experience” (De Gabriele 2016). The survey response continued, stating that conflict exists as investors won’t invest unless there is a big star involved, while big stars from diverse backgrounds are far more uncommon due to the belief that hiring them is a risk that deters investors and essentially pisses off networks.
Television comedies appear to be the most accurate in representing cultural diversity in Australia, shown through the quantity of examples in recent decades from the 90’s hit Acropolis Now, as well as Fat Pizza and more recently Here Come The Habibs (Lattouf 2016). While these programs provide characters that many ethnic viewers can relate to, it has been suggested by Lattouf (2016) that the success of these programs has proven popular due to the nature of this “self-depreciating” genre. Perhaps why we see less ethnic actors in more serious or dramatic roles is because networks again see a risk in hiring actors unless they degrade their heritage for the enjoyment by the Anglo-Celtic majority.
Interestingly, the level of cultural diversity of television in Germany, another highly multicultural country, having over 5 million people of Turkish background alone, is an even further step back. Germany last year alone has accepted more than half a million refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, further constituting to a subsequent increase in Germany’s Muslim population (Informationsverbund Asyl und Migration, 2017) While these political implications have been rather recent, German television has not yet taken any step to depict their multicultural reality. In popular soap operas and dramas such as “Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten”, “Lindenstraße” and “Unter Uns”, literally all of their main characters are Anglo-German. This inequality in German television points quicker to more discriminating dimensions due to the existing socio-political tension between German nationals and Turkish Kurds (Noack, 2016).
Tayfun Bademsoy is a Turkish actor living in Germany who speaks fluent German without an accent, and constantly is requested to play roles such as a grocer, Islamist or a terrorist (Bruck, 2016), suggesting the unfortunate stereotype-gap in which foreign actors face. While one-fifth of Germans have a foreign background, reliable figures on the proportion of immigrants in German cinema films or TV hardly exist (Bruck, 2016).
While Australia’s anti-discrimination steps are clear and evident, those in Germany are less visible, as stereotypes against Middle-Eastern immigrants evident in social life are translated into German television. A large proportion of Germans agree to Anti-Islam Statements, and as a result Turkish Germans have suffered as a result of the post-9/11 stereotype of Turks and other Middle-Eastern nations being a cluster for Muslims and Islam (Goebel 2010). The following post will investigate the recent interventions and future directions in addressing the issue of cultural diversity on screen in Australia and Germany.