Interview with Jeremy Fernandez about Diversity in Australian Media

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Jeremy Fernandez grew up in Malaysia before his family migrated to Australia when he was 13. He is an Australian journalist and a television news presenter with ABC News 24. Fernandez joined theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation in 2000 working as a producer for ABC Local Radio. He has worked as a voice-over artist for Seven Network and has worked with CNN International in London, UK as a writer and a producer before joining ABC again in 2010. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy on behalf of The Equity Diversity Committee about Diversity in Australian Media.

Who were your role models on TV / film when growing up here in Australia? 

Some of my earliest role models were actually teachers. I often wished to be as knowledgeable, articulate, patient, and generous as many of them were. Some of these early role models had grown-up poor, or disabled. Many were women. Some were gay, young, elderly, religious, atheist. And they had different skin colours. The diversity didn’t strike me as remarkable. It was only in my mid-teens that I noticed my reality was barely reflected on screen.

What gives you joy and satisfaction in your job each day?

I’m surrounded at the ABC, by some of the cleverest, most hardworking people in the industry. So I’m regularly star-struck.

I love the varied nature of my work: One day I’m writing & researching; And the next, I’m on air with rolling news for 3 hours.

I get the biggest buzz out of breaking news, particularly on location as a presenter and reporter. Interacting with viewers in real life, or on social media, is great. For all that’s changing in this industry nothing beats face-to-face time.

Did you experience any barriers trying to break into Australian journalism & broadcasting?

I consider myself very lucky to do the work I do. Of course, there were those who told me not to go barking up the wrong career tree. Most of them weren’t being mean-spirited. They wanted me to know that this was not an industry known for its diversity. I came into it with both eyes open, and tried my luck anyway. I will however, admit to being dogged about proving wrong, the guy who told me, “Don’t worry. There’s always SBS”. I love SBS, of course. But it shouldn’t be the only source of media employment for the large fraction of Australians who were born overseas.

Do you think there’s enough diverse representation in Australian media / TV / film? (If not, what changes would you like to see?)

I’ve had a great run with the ABC. But even ol’ Aunty will admit there’s work to do, as there is in much of corporate Australia. I think we need more indigenous voices & faces in the mainstream media. I’d also like to see diversity understood more broadly. Intersectionality between race, gender, sexuality, disability, wealth, and age is more than we can necessarily see with the naked eye. But it harbours a tremendous amount of valuable lived experience.

What advice would you like to give to up and coming journalists and for those breaking into television?

Don’t do it if you’re just looking to get your mug on screen. It gets old very quickly. Learn to write well. Develop an eye for detail. Be OK with shift work. Be inquisitive- ask the ‘dumb questions’ everyone else is afraid to ask. Be respectful of your subjects & audience, even if you disagree with them. Dream big, but also be honest with yourself. Define success your own way. And don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Fernandez (ABC TV)

Q and A with The family Law’s Trystan Go

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Introducing The Family Law‘s Trystan Go, the actor whose credits also include The King And I and plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s, Queensland.
Joy: Congratulations on a wonderful performance and season of The Family Law on SBS. How did your acting career start?

Trystan: It all started when I was in a play called ‘The Quiet Brother’ which I did in the quaint little country town of Harrietville. The play was a dark, period drama about the Chinese gold field riots so it was quite the opposite of this cringe-worthy comedy, ‘The Family Law’. I guess I caught the acting bug so I took various classes at NIDA and Brent St to broaden my knowledge on performing. Since then, I’ve done several other plays and was recently cast as The King of Siam’s eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn in Opera Australia’s ‘The King and I’. Performing classics like ‘Getting To Know You’ with Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes at The Sydney Opera House every night was one of the most sumptuous experiences of my life! ‘The Family Law’ was my first breakthrough role on screen and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work in Theatre, Musical Theatre and Television!

Joy: Who were your role models in film and television growing up in Australia?

Trystan: In primary school, I watched Play School. Even my Grandma would marvel at the fact that there was someone with Asian heritage on television. This is why I’m loving that channels like SBS and ABC are introducing and promoting multiculturalism in the media. I also admire Jay Laga’aia from Wicked The Musical for his versatility in performance as he has done films, television, theatre and music.

Joy: What would your dream acting role be?
Trystan: I think any role that is wacky and unique is the role I’d enjoy playing, which is partly the reason why I loved playing Benjamin Law so much. I mean, how often do you get to dress up in a watermelon costume, with a stark red face and dance around in front of hundreds while playing the clarinet?! Then again, I’d also love to play a really dark, serious and scary character…maybe a Chinese ​Phantom from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ as there has already been ​an African-American one.​ Or I could move up the hierarchy and play The King of Siam in ‘The King and I’. So I guess you could say that I would be happy with any challenging role that is thrown my way.
Joy: Do you think there’s enough diversity in Australian Film and TV?
Trystan: Growing up in the 21st Century, I haven’t seen too much diversity on our Australian Screens. Of course there would be the odd Asian typecast here and there but apart from that, I think our screens are lacking a bit of ‘colour’.
Australia is an incredibly multicultural society, however I don’t think that this is reflected enough in Australian productions. It would be wonderful to see an ethnic lead in an Australian feature film or sitcom​.​ This is why I am so pleased that Matchbox Pictures has produced ‘The Family Law’ and that I’ve been a part of this ground-breaking production.  It’s a sitcom about an Australian family which just so happens to be Asian.
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Joy: Where would you like to see yourself in 20 years time and why?
Trystan: I definitely would want to be in more productions, however I’d also really love to run a major hotel chain​ as I’d practically bathe in warm dessert buffets and international canapés. I might even make use of the 50metre heated pool​ before hand!

 

A Law Unto Themselves ( Joy’s Interview with Benjamin Law)

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Law for

MEAA magazine’s Autumn edition 2015.

Click on the article below…

Benjamin Law article

Benjamin Law and Joy

Q and A interview with Benjamin Law about diversity

Benjamin Law and Joy

Benjamin Law is a Sydney-based journalist, columnist and screenwriter, and has completed a PhD in television writing and cultural studies. He’s also member of M.E.A.A. as a freelance writer.

Benjamin is the author of two books—The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012)—and the co-author of the comedy book Shit Asian Mothers Say (2014) with his sister Michelle and illustrator Oslo Davis. Both of his books have been nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards.

Benjamin is also a frequent contributor to Good Weekend (The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age).

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What made you want to write your story – The Family Law?
I’d been writing personal columns for frankie for a while, and I noticed the ones that made reference to my family – especially my mum – got a great response. Which isn’t surprising, really – my mum is pretty hilarious, unique and baffling, in the way that only mothers can be. And after I wrote longer pieces for an anthology called Growing Up Asian in Australia, my now-editor approached me, asking if I had a book up my sleeve. Part of what motivated me to write The Family Law was this idea of writing a book I wish I’d read as a teenager. One with a hilariously dysfunctional Chinese-Australian family.

 

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After writing your story, what steps did you take in order to get your story / screenplay seen by a network or producer?

I didn’t actually seek out screen options myself. I think my publisher would’ve had chats with production companies, and the book was also on people’s radars after a certain point. But when I heard Matchbox Pictures and Tony Ayres – whose work I’d admired for years before we even met  – were interested, I knew they were the ones for me.
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Your screenplay will obviously open doors for diversity…however will your screenplay also be open for “colourblind casting?” 

I’m only on the show as a writer, so I don’t get to call those shots.
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Can you reveal how many roles will be Asian? 
What I can say is that roughly 90% of the cast is explicitly written as Chinese-Australian, so we’ll need the majority of actors to have Asian faces. There are a handful of other roles which are specifically for Eurasian actors, and some roles are definitely white. As for the other roles, I reckon that can and should go to as many different actors as possible!

 

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When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models on television and / or film and why? 

 
There weren’t a huge number of Asian faces on telly when I was growing up. My family and I used to point at the TV and scream in excitement if there was an Asian on TV: “THERE’S AN ASIAN ON THE TEEEE-VEEEEEEEE!” But there was definitely celebrity chef Elizabeth Chong, on Good Morning Australia, and Dr Cindy Pan on sex/life, and I remember seeing Clara Law’s beautiful feature Floating Life, which affected me a lot. But I’d usually look overseas for Asian representation on screen. I mean, I watched The Joy Luck Club A LOT. But it’s getting better nowadays, and reality TV has done heaps to reflect how diverse Australia actually is. You see a lot more Asian-Australians in local comedies and dramas, but not nearly enough.
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What are you looking forward to in the future on Australian television?
I’m really looking forward to Lawrence Leung’s kung-fu comedy Maximum Choppage on ABC2 next year.
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