Film and TV

Let’s Talk About The Asian Australian Representation On ABC’s “THE HEIGHTS”

Adequate representation and visibility in Australian film and TV is a public conversation which is getting underway, but mainstream Australian TV still prefers to whitewash most of its shows and TV representations in Australia. So this is why I am personally excited about watching "THE HEIGHTS" which is a 30 part drama series dispelling the whitewashing which mainstream Australian TV loves to portray.

I am looking forward to watching ABC ( Australian) series “THE HEIGHTS”, which explores the relationships between people in a community living in social housing in a fictional suburb called “Arcadia”. What makes this show most interesting is how realistic it is in reflecting the cultural and social diversity in Australia. Despite it being fictional, it really pushes the boundaries ( in a progressive way) in highlighting the lives of the people living in this “Arcadia” community. And it makes no delusions that social issues is one which can and does impact all Australians, not just specific stereotyped groups and communities.

It moves away from tokenism and breaks down all delusions that the “model minority” myth is how all migrant Australians live their lives. From reading different reviews on the show it definitely hits all the buttons of what reality is like for many different groups of Australians. In addition, the cast is extremely culturally, religiously and socially diverse, which is extremely important – as that is a true reflection of what Australia looks like – a myriad of colours, cultures and social standings. Adequate representation and visibility in Australian film and TV is a public conversation which is getting underway, but mainstream Australian TV still prefers to whitewash most of its shows and TV representations in Australia. So this is why I am personally excited about watching “THE HEIGHTS” which is a 30 part drama series dispelling the whitewashing which mainstream Australian TV loves to portray.

In saying this, the cultural representation of actors for this show is diverse in terms of its characters. There are awesome Indigenous Australian actors, Middle Eastern Australian actors and of course Asian Australian actors. For the purposes of this article, I will highlight the Asian Australians featured in this show and introduce who they are and which character they play.

  1. CRAIG FONG who plays “BENNY”
  1. KOA NUEN who plays “SULLY TRAN”

Phoenix Raei as Ash Jafari and Koa Nuen as university student Sully in ABC TV series The Heights, filmed in Perth and punctuated with wry one-liners and genuine warmth. Photograph: Bohdan Warchomij
  1. CARINA HOANG who plays “IRIS TRAN”

In addition, one of the producers for the show – QUE MINH LUU is a Vietnamese Australian as well as TONY AYRES who owns Matchbox Pictures ( company producing the show). For some people noting the Asian Australians known to be involved with this show may sound very petty, but I will admit that it excites me to mention this because we in Australia do not get many opportunities like this.

Review wise, I will add my own once I have watched the series on ABC iView, but here are some thoughts from Donna Lu who gave it a 4 out of 5 stars with her review in the Guardian:

Bucking the trending for TV drama, in which individuals from non-European backgrounds, LGBTQI people and Australians with disabilities are chronically underrepresented, two-thirds of The Heights’ core ensemble are from diverse (Indigenous, disability, culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds, and more than half the speaking roles are female. The writing team is also predominantly female, and includes three Indigenous writers and three culturally and linguistically diverse writers.

But the show’s stats – while impressive – shouldn’t be taken as an end in themselves: in this case, at least, diversity makes for better, more believable TV.

Perhaps that’s because The Heights doesn’t reduce characters’ identities to their component parts. Teenager Sabine Rosso (Bridie McKim) has mild cerebral palsy, but this fact is just one facet of her life as a young woman grappling with incipient independence and life at a new school, while playing confidante to her single mother, emergency doctor Claudia (an excellent Roz Hammond).

There’s also credible storylines involving university student Sully (Koa Nuen), who works in his mother (Carina Hoang) Iris’s grocery store, and his Iranian friend Ash Jafari (Phoenix Raei). Considerations have been made of even the smallest detail: in one scene, ex-cop Pav (Marcus Graham) and his kids, who are not Asian, eat takeaway at the beach with chopsticks. Australia is large; its people contain multitudes.

For those in Oz, you can catch around 16 or so of the 30 episodes on ABC Iview and for those living overseas like myself, get a VPN so you can check it out!

Images via the Guardian

To read the full review, please click on: The Heights review – finally, a warm, complex and credible Australian soap opera

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