Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Exclusive: No BBCs on the BBC. Ben Bradshaw asks why

Yay! Starting the year with the good news that Culture Minister Ben Bradshaw has heard our woes and written to the communications watchdog Ofcom asking where all the Chinese are.

I've just seen the letter and it's a welcome sight. Apart from me presenting the occasional programme for BBC Radio 4 (two due this year), a smattering of barely visibles, occasional sightings of Alexa Chung and her frocks, and of course the lovely and highly visible Gok Wan, where are we?

I do possess the perfect face for radio, I know, but I'd like to see more presenters reflecting me on the telly. The British Chinese, including the British Born Chinese (BBCs), are after all the third largest ethnic minority in the UK. It's expected that we may hit the 400,000 mark in the 2011 census with up to another 100,000 students and "irregular workers".

It's long been observed that there are no Chinese in the BBC's flagship Eastenders series despite the history of London's Limehouse and Chinese sailors in the docklands. Hey, I was born in Hackney but I'm starting to feel that I never existed. I think they had a Fujianese DVD seller for a short while recently, as is if that represents us. Around where I live in north London there's an east Asian traffic warden (poor guy!), a Chinese-looking bus driver, not to mention solicitors, councillors and a wide array of professionals and business people.

I look with envy at the Americans with east Asian faces all over the place and occupying all sorts of media and entertainment niches. How often do we see an equivalent here? I can only think of Torchwood where colour-blind cross-racial casting gave us Toshiko Sato. OK, not Chinese, but at least on the same continent.

Exclusive to Madam Miaow Says, Bradshaw writes in his letter to Ofcom that he's now aware of:
... the low profile of the community in the worlds of culture and media and, in particular, broadcast content. ... the limited number of opportunities available to Chinese people attempting to find work in these areas. It is argued that Chinese characters appear infrequently in, for example, popular drama and that there are no Chinese newscasters or television journalists. It is further suggested that when Chinese characters are portrayed on television, film or theatre, they are often unfairly stereotyped. This is all balanced against the fact that the Chinese community constitutes a significant and sizeable ethnic group in the UK.

He also asks how the diversity requirements of section 264(6)(i) of the Communications Act is applied by public service broadcasters with reference to the Chinese community.

Casting directors please take note.

UPDATE: Spirit Warriors about to break the mould?


hidden_emotions said...

I was just thinking that, there's so much asian american representation across the pond and in england- NOTHING.

But then again, if we did have a bbc family in eastenders or any other soap, there would be a outcry of how it is representing us the wrong way. [Like the ferreiras] but no harm in trying. =)

Madam Miaow said...

" if we did have a bbc family in eastenders or any other soap, there would be a outcry of how it is representing us the wrong way."

You're not wrong there. :-)

However, I say they should at least have a try.

Do you remember the Chinese family in Brookside? Everyone said that was a really good depiction of ordinary Chinese people as human beings. Starred David Yip and Sarah Lam.

Gwei Mui said...

I remember the Chinese family in Brookside. I also remember the debate that Eastenders had a long time ago about bringing in a Chinese family or something else. They went for the something else a hairdressers instead of a take-away. I too welcome the prod. But at the same time I cannot help feeling rather disappointed that twenty plus years and we are still knocking on the door. We can but try and perhaps little by little we will chip away.

D.B. said...

I forgot about Alexa Chung. I googled her and apparently she's still dating the singer from the Arctic Monkeys, and they live in Brooklyn (where I am now!), hence her disappearance from British TV.

I can't believe she's going out with him. I still think he sounds like George Formby. said...

I'd love to see any response Ben Bradshaw gets. If any.

I haven't seen any of Spirit Warriors yet, but I didn't notice a Chinese surname in the lead actress' name. Then again, that's no proof of anything... but really? kung fu? spiritual warriors? It's cliche city, again.

Which is the problem. At least the Fujianese DVD seller was an interesting character. Toshiko Sato was so cliched (Japanese nerdy scientist who has trouble connecting with people) they had to kill her off.

Madam Miaow said...

AW, I think you'll find that, unusually, many of the cast are Chinese. I know of some of these guys and it's good to them used on TV in a regularly screened show.

It's also written by Jo Ho who is Chinese.

A cliché? It's a kids' fairy tale.

The problem with Eastenders is that the one Chinese character was low status. Actually not a problem if there were plenty of other representations balancing this. But there aren't. Which would you rather be: a DVD seller or a scientist who gets to fight monsters? Even if you do get killed off at the end.