PS Culture: Casting not all black and white

Race bending: "I think there's a bit of racism in the industry," says western Sydney filmmaker George Basha. Picture: Natalie Roberts

Race bending: "I think there's a bit of racism in the industry," says western Sydney filmmaker George Basha. Picture: Natalie Roberts

LOUD-MOUTHS and opinionated western Sydney creatives kicked off a new film club with a debate on the resurgence of "blackface" and the eugenics of casting for the Australian screen.

A range of film and television industry speakers including casting agents, actors and filmmakers converged at the Information and Cultural Exchange's Parramatta headquarters last week for the inaugural Point of View forum, Black Face! Brown Face! Yellow Face!

Screen professionals including Guildford filmmaker George Basha, director Alissar Gazal and actor Nik Lathouris of Heartbreak High and Mad Max fame debated ideas of ethnicity, casting and performance.

"For example, how important it is to cast someone from the same background as the character? Do you choose the best performer or actor?" asked organiser Gary Paramanathan. "We're not saying there's a right or wrong answer. The whole point is to have the discussion."

Mr Paramanathan said the topic was chosen due to the contemporary rise of shows like Jonah from Tonga on the ABC.

"As a comedian Chris Lilley has a right to create his characters but as a society it's up to us to question whether a minstrel show, or blackface, is appropriate for the times we live in. When actors of colour can't find work in the industry and a white actor is playing a Tongan character, you wonder on so many levels."

He also pointed towards major feature films like Australian director Alex Proyas's blockbuster, Gods of Egypt: "All the gods are white but all the extras are of ethnic appearance."

Mr Basha, of Lebanese descent, described his difficulty watching Underbelly episodes that feature Lebanese characters performed by people who aren't Lebanese.

"We're one of the biggest multicultural countries in the world; let's start showing it that way," he said.

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