I should state firstly that I haven’t read the novel, and so don’t have any positive or negative preconceived notions about how it should be translated to film. But it’s interesting to note that one of the notable changes in the production process has been to the ethnicity of one of the characters - Aisha, wife of Greek-Australian Hector and the organiser of the barbecue at which the titular slap takes place. In the novel, Aisha is described as Anglo-Indian, but the Aisha of the TV version is played by British actress Sophie Okonedo, who is Nigerian/Jewish by ethnicity.
According to this article:
As much as possible, the filmmakers looked to actors who matched the characters' ethnicity.
In the case of Aisha, this led to a drawn-out process after Connolly travelled to London to audition British-Indian actresses.
After meeting the ''staggeringly great actress'' Okonedo, a decision was made to change Aisha's cultural background to Mauritian. According to Connolly, Tsiolkas was very open to the changes, even writing a detailed backstory for the ethnically transformed Aisha.
Notably, this is one of the first times that a major role in a major Australian TV series was of a specifically South Asian character, yet whoever was involved in casting The Slap could seemingly not find an Australian actress of South Asian background anywhere. Now admittedly, I can’t think of any off the top of my head, as there are none with a significant profile. Yet that also says a lot about the industry’s reluctance to give such people the chance.
Even if they had gone with a British-Asian actress instead, that would still have been a positive thing to at least see a desi playing a desi in a sizable role on Australian TV. Alternatively, if someone of Indian descent was required, I hear there’s a country called India which is apparently full of them, and presumably some of them can act too.
At least I’m glad that while Aisha got “race-bended”, she didn’t get white-washed as frequently happens to non-white characters in film and television (see the Billy Sing story as an example). Melbourne has a sizeable Mauritian community and I’m happy to see them get some love, even if Okonedo is obviously not Mauritian herself. It’s good to see an “African” character on Australian TV, and it’s good to see an actress the calibre of Sophie Okonedo on Australian TV. But surely it’s not an impossible task to have a specifically South Asian character played by a South Asian actress.
UPDATE: It turns out that Aisha is not the only Asian character in The Slap who has been de-Asianized. Check it here.
The lack of Asians on Australian TV, and why it matters
Yellowface is still alive