Monday, November 21, 2011

"The Slap" and racebending, part 2

I wrote recently about the acclaimed Australian mini-series The Slap and its rewriting of the ethnicity of a major character from the Christos Tsiolkas novel it was based on. Not a huge deal, perhaps, as it was seemingly done to accommodate the availability of the wonderful black British actress Sophie Okonedo. Thus, the Indian character Aisha in the book became the Mauritian character Aisha in the series. My point in the previous post was that it was a shame that Asians, and South Asians in particular, are majorly unrepresented on Australian TV, and here was an explicitly Indian main character in a hotly anticipated series, and now she's no longer Indian.

Now, I was happy to let that go. But for all it's excellence as a series (and it is very good indeed), the more I realise the makers of The Slap need a slap themselves for the way they are treating the story's Asian characters.

Aside from the character of Aisha herself, there is the Eurasian man she ends up having a dalliance with.

To quote the book:

She had noticed him immediately. She assumed every woman at the conference had, for he was almost ridiculously handsome, Eurasian, with a delicate snub nose, a gym-trim body and the most pale-white skin she'd ever seen. At first she had thought he might be Spanish, but the surname on his name tag was unmistakably Chinese, Xing. Art Xing. It sounded like the name of one of the bands that Hector enjoyed listening to.
At the first dinner, after their shared laugh, she had asked him where he was from.
“I’m Canadian.”
“Obviously,” she snapped amiably, rolling her eyes and pointing to the red and white maple-leaf insignia at the end of his tag. “But what’s your ethnic background?”
“I used to think that was a very Canadian question. But I’m discovering you Australians are exactly like us.” He was smirking, his eyes teasing her. She found she had to force herself to look straight back at him. Her impulse was to look down at her empty plate. She felt absurd, but his beauty did make her swoon. Oh grow up, Aisha scolded herself, you’re not some teenage twit and a Beatles concert, you’re a forty-something mother of two.
“My father is third-generation Chinese from Toronto. My mother is Czech.”

So, how is this ravishingly sexy half-Chinese man represented in the TV series?

Well, for a start he's not Chinese anymore. In the series his name has been changed to Art Ramirez and he appears to a Hispanic American of some kind. His ethnicity is not mentioned.

Speaking of Asians, another Asian character from the book has been completely omitted from the series - Van the Vietnamese DVD pirate, who is the business partner of Kelly, Harry's mistress.

Am I making a big deal about nothing? Perhaps, perhaps not. The ethnicities of Aisha and Art are not essential components of the story, in comparison to the Greek and Anglo characters whose culture plays a very real part of how the story unfolds. Likewise, the presence of Van the DVD guy is not integral.

But given that the novel version of The Slap won so many plaudits for exploring the way ethnicity and culture interweave in modern Australian society, it seems extremely odd that the directors seem hell-bent on minimizing the role of Asians in the TV version. Especially given that one of the directors, Tony Ayres, is half-Chinese himself. You'd expect better from him, surely.

Representation on television is important. I don't want to watch wall-to-wall Asians, but I do expect that when I watch a story with Asian characters, they won't be modified to be anything other than Asian.
Particularly for Asian men. If Asians have little visibility on Australian television, then Asian men are harder to spot, and sexy roles for Asian men are downright invisible. So it is saddening that while the directors are happy to show a naked Asian prostitute in one episode, they think nothing of changing the sexy Asian guy to a sexy Latino guy.

So for the time being, if you want to see an Asian man on Australian TV, you'll have to be content with watching Asian tourists getting detained on Border Security.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not an overly sensitive guy but as a sum of all things, this makes me a little pissed off. It's a little too convenient wouldn't you reckon. Perhaps however, there's really a limited pool of acting Asians and Eurasians to choose from. Sensation, step up and join an agency!