Wednesday, April 22, 2009

OMG there's an Asian person on Ramsay Street???

Erinsborough residents marvelled as the Token Asian Girl tunnelled into Ramsay Street from China.

Ok, what? Just as I was complaining that there are hardly any people of colour on Australian TV, I tuned in to Neighbours last week for some Godforsaken reason and was introduced to a Miss Sunny Lee, latest arrival to Ramsay Street. I prepared to cringe.

In the brief parts of the episode I watched, this Asian teenager was confidently introducing herself as ‘the new exchange student from
Korea’ and saying things like, “Is this how you do things in Australia?”

In a broad Australian accent. I can buy an exchange student who has travelled extensively (and perhaps been taught English in school – perhaps even attended an International School) having a good grasp of English. I don’t buy an international student who has never been to Australia with an obvious Australian accent. Is there an Australia-Town ghetto in Seoul? Maybe there’s some future plot that reveals that Sunny is actually a criminally insane teenage runaway pretending to be an exchange student, but the fact that other characters never question her story or accent seems to quell this theory.

After a bit of web-searching I’ve learned she is played by actress/model Hany Lee Choi. There is no information on this character or Hany Lee Choi on the Neighbours website but there are some active forum threads discussing the new character. There is also a page from that fountain of free knowledge, Wikepedia. “[Sunny Lee] was created by producer Susan Bower in response to criticism that Neighbours was "too white" [1], as Sunny will be Korean.”

There goes that cringe.

What producer Susan Bower had to say on racial diversity on Neighbours: ‘‘I would like it (Neighbours) to reflect Australian society, but I can’t give Libby and Dan a black baby so it has to come in a natural way. I don’t believe in bringing in people for the sake of it. It has to be part of the story and it has to be believable. … I know we’re going to get flak about this gorgeous little Korean girl who’s going to be coming in next year, because you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Damn straight you’re going to get flak, Bower, when you can’t even stick to your own principle of introducing characters in a ‘believable’ and ‘natural’ fashion. So, you’ve begrudgingly thrown a token Asian girl into the White mix. Unfortunately you’re obviously not willing to tackle any further issues regarding her race, and so you fail.

Are you so behind the times that you think a pair of slanted eyes and brown skin will confuse your viewers? You think the only plausible way for an Asian chick to be in Melbourne suburbia is for her to be an exchange student (does over a hundred years of Asian migration to Victoria mean NOTHING to you?) yet you can’t be bothered either casting a native Korean actress for the role, or taking the time to research Korean culture/speech/etc. in order to train the current actress. Seriously, an exchange student from Seoul with a clearly Australian accent dressing like she’s in a Dangerfield ad and swanning around speaking perfect English? Weak. How stupid do you think your viewers are?

Why not just write her as an Asian-Australian girl? Plausible and interesting. But then you’d have to hire Asian actors to play her family as well, and that’s tipping the status quo a little too much, isn’t it?

There are a million ways you could have realistically introduced a ‘gorgeous little Korean girl’ onto the cast of Neighbours. Need to conveniently import her from somewhere and dump her into the Kennedy home? Need to justify why she was born in Australia but her Korean parents are nowhere in sight? She’s in foster care. She’s adopted. She ran away from home. She’s from Sydney and won a school scholarship and had nowhere to stay to pursue it. Her parents spend all their time travelling with her singer/actress younger sister. See how easy and non-insulting that is?

There are so many interesting ways to explore race through your medium. Is she homesick? Going through culture shock? How do the younger kids (Callum and Charlie) react to Sunny, presuming they are not exposed to many Asian people in their insulated little world? Do the other teenagers at school sing that racist ‘Chinese Japanese, dirty knees’ taunt that the boys used to sing to my Korean best friend in school? How about having her get angry when Paul Robinson or someone conflates her ethnicity with ‘Chinese’?

Or is it all too hard? You’ve thrown those loudmouthed critics a bone; I suppose you’ll want to leave it at that. Just over your ears and yell, “You’re still not happy with the pretty Korean doll? I told you – damned if you do and damned if you don’t! LALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU ANYMORE!” like everyone else.


PS: *facepalm* Why, oh WHY did I read the rest of the comments in that “‘Perfect blend’ to colour casting” article? Are you feeling threatened by the fact that Australian TV might not cater exclusively to you in future, opinionated- white- folks- who- throw- hysterical- screaming- tantrums- at- the- slightest- hint- that- somebody- somewhere- out- there- might- or- might- not- have- just- called- you- racist?


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    Edit Anonymous said...
    Hi, I suggest you email this post to the general comments in the Neighbours Official website- I know you probably won't induce much of a response, but they do actually read it and at least the itch on probably every Asian-Australian mind will be relieved...before they continue with their inherently racist pretense. I submitted an article five times concerning racism and received a personally written 'misunderstanding' email. For those few minutes, they may actually regain consciousness to the explicit racial discrimination evident in the plot, characterisation and delivery.

  2. I agree with you 100%. You did forget to mention that she also has an American accent as well; which is odd if she's an Australian actress. This is Australian TV. lol