Sunday, 29 June 2014

When does humour stop being funny and morph into racism? By actress Lucy Sheen.


When does humour stop being funny and morph into racism?

By actress Lucy Sheen

I have a sense of humour. A pretty good one, sometimes it goes a little dark. Hell I loved Nighty Nighty the deeply dark and disturbing comedy by Julia Davis. I even ended up in the second series! Other times it can be very infantile. I don’t think I get overly precious about stuff. I’ve been known to take the proverbial out of myself on many occasions. Our family motto (long story for another time) is:
Si omnia cetera fallunt utique, potest tamen se derideri
If all else fails, at least we can still laugh at ourselves.


I can laugh at a good joke and groan at the Christmas-cracker ones, like everyone else.

Recently though, the way that some people’s funny bones have been digging me in the ribs, I could have been forgiven for thinking I was back in the 1970s. Bernard Manning, Love They Neighbour, The Black and White Minstrel show and Mind Your Language and me dreading school on the Monday. I didn’t have to be a psychic to know that I’d be in for a verbal battering. I’d hope that the battering would remain just that, verbal.

Every Saturday night as a young child, I would be sat down along with the rest of the family to watch The Black and White Minstrel show. Yes, you heard me correctly. Back in the 60s there were only three TV channels. Children watched what the grown ups watched. Did I understanding what was going on? Hey you’re asking a, transracially adopted, East Asian child; who for a while thought that she was actually white! So you’re asking the wrong person.

It was the same for Mind Your Language. I’d watch along with the rest of the “family” but would feel distinctly uncomfortable. I’d spend more time watching my adoptive parents out of the corner of my eye, as they laughed at the linguistic and cultural ineptness of Chung Su-Lee and Tarō Nagazumi. My adoptive parents laughed unreservedly at the images they saw on the small screen. They were laughing at, not with, people who looked just like me.

As a child I was unable to coherently express my discomfort. Even if I could have, I wouldn’t have been allowed. Children in that era were still seen and not heard. I couldn’t verbalise my dislike of that program or why. It was the exact same feeling of discomfort and dis-ease I experienced when I had to pass by the local National Front office. Something I did as little as possible.

Taking the mickey out of people is a national past-time. So is the building up of people only to knock ‘em down. The British media loves doing this and it would appear that the British public love reading about it. So when does this, at times, aggressive jocularity turn from biting humour, into racism?

Is it possible to de-construct the interlocking subtle (sometimes not so subtle) strands that interweave into that which we find, or do not find funny?
Humour is subjective, after all differing cultures find differing things funny.

In an internet study about jokes, countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand preferred jokes that involved word play:
What happens to a frog’s car when it breaks down?
It gets toad away.


Americans and Canadians seemed to prefer jokes based on, or that had a sense of superiority – either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:

Cooper, Gary (Texan, The)_01
Texan: “Where are you from?”
Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
Texan: “Okay – where are you from, jackass?”


Many European countries, like France, Denmark and Belgium, enjoyed jokes that were more surreal:

An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote:
“Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”
“But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”


Humour, nonconformist, varied and not one for following rules. So is it the case that one person’s idea of humour is another person’s insult? Or is there more to the conundrum of humour, than culture, personal taste and what is generally perceived by the society you live in as acceptable?
The definition of humour is actually very interesting.
hu·mor
(h)yo͞omər – noun
noun: humour

1. the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech

2. a mood or state of mind

verb
verb: humour
1.comply with the wishes of (someone) in order to keep them content, however unreasonable such wishes might be.
The definition of humour as a verb is the most interesting and possibly the most pertinent to my initial question. Which makes me wonder even more about the general nature and application of humour.
I have always found jokes that rely on turning a person’s race, ethnicity or colour against themselves, making it a negative, unacceptable trait in society. I don’t find that kind of humour funny. I find nothing humorous in making a person seem abnormal, less than human, devaluing a person’s humanity because the colour of their skin is a different shade. Or the shape of their eyes or lips are different. That to me is not humour, it’s a systemic attempt to maintain a racist and biased view to continue to keep a society content with itself no matter how unreasonable that might be.

There will be those that say I’m reading too much into things. A joke is just a joke, it doesn’t mean anything. But that sounds suspiciously like the verbal prefacing that comes before a racist comment.

If I hear the term Chink, Coolie* or Oriental** I find it offensive. Yes it does depend upon context. In an academic or historical work examining Colonial or the Imperialist world, I get it. As a joke or in a comedy skit nine times out of ten I find it offensive. To me as a British East Asian, it offends me every bit as much as the n-word offends a black person. The word Chink, the term Oriental, these are not words or terms of endearment. It isn’t like saying, “me old china.” Where there would be a double and possible humours meaning as it’s Cockney rhyming slang for mate. No, these words are used to cause insult, to belittle, to demean, to racially slur. These words are meant to be derogatory, to demean, and devalue people like me because I look different. Because my ancestors were treated and viewed in a very specific manner in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And because, even now in the 21st century, people who like me, we are still considered alien, outsiders, those that are “other.” You only have to think back to the recent BBC- Jeremy Clarkson debacle a recent example of such supposed “humour.”

British East Asians numerically are not as great as their Black British and Asian (South Asian) British counterparts. In my humble opinion, Black and South Asian British are not consistently and routinely excluded from the general debates and concerns that surround British Asian Minority Ethnics. We are, as far as I can see, the only ethnic minority where it is still, in some people’s minds ok to pass racist comments in the guise of comedy or art. I think that we are the only minority in the UK where socially and publicly you can get away with broadcasting material that is offensive. Whether that’s racist jokes or Yellowface in stage productions. Why, because British East Asians don’t complain. We are our own worst enemies. I still see (more often than I should) on national television people passing offensive and racist comments based on my ethnicity. Yet these incidents are “laughed” of as having been meant in an affectionate manner. Let me tell you there is nothing affectionate about Chink jokes, or being referred to as a Chink, Coolie or Oriental. There is absolutely no reason for any theatre productions, Film, TV or radio programme to be practising Yellowface or Yellowvoice.

Yellowface is far more than a Caucasian putting on yellow make up or taping back their eyes to make themselves look more like an East Asian. It is a systemic, institutionalised and structural bias against East Asians and against engaging professional East Asian artist to play roles that are East Asian. It is the depiction of East Asian roles by Caucasian producers, directors, writers and other gatekeepers; those who control the representation of East Asians in the British media and popular British culture, those who make the casting decisions that propagate the continuance of racist East Asian stereotypes and caricatures.

That is not to say that other ethnic minorities have not suffered – or that people have not tried Blacking up or Brownface.

The stark difference is, there have been attempts to do this on a British stage. There have been and there were protests. Questions have been and would have been asked in the House of Commons. There would be, there has been wide-spread condemnation of such archaic artistic practices. But when it comes to the British East Asians - NADA.

And it has happened in the recent past and those of us who have complained were told, go away.

We were told that Yellowface just wasn’t the same as blacking up.
We’ve recently been told by TV Producer that the use of the word SLOPE, although it was understood to be offensive to East Asians; because it wasn’t thought to be widely used or known in the UK, they’d still use it. Why? Because using it here, in the UK, they could fool themselves into thinking its usage was “witty” a clever play on words and therefore non offensive. I also think that the general perception of East Asians in the UK is, they won’t complain. There are too few of us to matter. So they can get away with it, like they always have. Shock horror, I have news for everyone out there that thinks like that, NOT ANY MORE.

So, excuse me if I’m sceptical about the basic ins and outs of humour which is reliant on the use, as far as I can see, of racist stereotypes and caricatures. I personally do not speak (to any small degree of proficiency) Mandarin or Cantonese. I am not small, petite, servile or quiet. I do not work in a Chinese takeaway or restaurant, I am not a maths guru or proficient in computer programming language. Though I used to practice martial arts. I do not speak English with an accent that would make me the butt of a bad joke. I can pronounce all the consonants found in the English language. I am loud and outspoken, when I need to be. All of which I do in the Queen’s glorious English.

As soon as you purposefully target another human being for not being like the culturally dominant; as soon as you imply that people who are not superficially akin to the dominant race in your society, who don’t share the common vocal or physical characteristic, or that people who are different from the majority in your society are somehow less than human and have a lower value in your society - for me that’s not humour.

That’s abuse, that’s racism, that’s setting up behaviours which I consider unacceptable, that society then passes on to the following generations.

If you can substitute another word for Chink or Oriental and the joke still gets a laugh, then my question is, why are you choosing to use those words in the first place?

Read the whole piece with illustrations at Lucy Sheen's website.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Help get Art Everywhere: only a few days to vote


Art Everywhere, the UK’s largest art project and most accessible art campaign wants your participation.


Coming back into its’ second year following a successful launch in 2013, Art Everywhere is back, and since June 3, the public have had a few weeks to co-curate the exhibition and vote for their favourite pieces of art from a long list of over 70 British artworks via facebook.com/arteverywhereuk.

Voting ends on 30th June and the shortlist will be announced on 16th July with Grayson Perry and Antony Gormley in attendance. The shortlisted work will be on show across the UK for 6 weeks, sites include; bus stops, airports, train stations, shopping centres and many more locations.

Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks and originator of the idea for Art Everywhere, said: “Art Everywhere is back to showcase great British artworks for a summer of art. We want the British public to crowd-fund and vote for their favourites. This year goes bigger and better including a specially created artwork exclusive from a world-renowned artist.”.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Question for the Act for Change Conference: are the political dangers in keeping East Asian British minority invisible fully understood?

Hackney-born Chinese British punk Anna Chen kicks up. Pic by Bob Carlos Clarke

Act For Change Conference, Young Vic Theatre
30th June 2014
Chair: Shami Chakrabarti
Panel: Julie Crampsie, BBC casting director; Steve November, Head Of ITV programming; writer Stephen Poliakoff; film producer Allison Owen; and Ewan Marshall, former artistic director of Graeae Theatre Company.

Dear Act for Change Conference panel,

I would like to ask if the panel is aware of the dangerous political aspect of keeping East Asian Britons (BEA) invisible and excluded in the culture.


How being a blank canvas means that governments can divert social anger onto you.


There have been several occasions when there have been attempts to scapegoat British East Asians out of political expediency, such as the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in 2000/2001. When the outbreak was clearly out of the government's control — with images of burning pyres of livestock, and farmers committing suicide — someone from the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) briefed Valerie Elliott of The Times that the outbreak was started by Chinese restaurants in Northumberland.

This was an absurd accusation of a minority based on no evidence whatsoever: just pure prejudice. However, all the mainstream press ran with it except, notably and honourably, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Ian Burrell of The Independent. Broadsheets and tabloids alike carried lurid headlines such as, “Sheep and Sow Source”. Nationwide fury towards the government over their incompetence was diverted onto a small innocent group.

It was possible for the accusation to stick in an unquestioning media environment for several scary months, during which there was intimidation, ostracism, threats, spitting and a build-up to physical attacks on Chinese in places like Cumbria, precisely because we are dehumanised by our invisibility. The association of minorities with filth and pestilence has some dangerous precedents in world history, and it is shocking to see that it can be done so swiftly here.

We are a blank canvas upon which anyone can project their own inner demons.

Fortunately, our efforts to challenge the perverse narrative peddled by politicians and press were successful. A delegation of Chinese representatives from across the community had meetings with Nick Brown, the MAFF minister, pointing out the obvious: that there was no scientific basis for the slur. For the first time ever the Chinese went on strike and closed Chinatown. A thousand of us marched to the MAFF offices where Nick Brown vindicated us in front of the world's cameras.

By continuing to collude in this invisibility, the various cultural bodies help to create a climate where social unrest, fears and anger, can be directed onto us.

We are part of the fabric of British society, not an exotic add-on. We expect to be treated as such. Does the panel understand the importance of this?

On a personal level, I was born and raised in Hackney, east London. I was perhaps the first Chinese British punk, hanging out at Vivienne Westwood's shop with other bright disaffected kids in the 1970s. I am as British as they come but I am constantly made to feel like an outsider. I do not want East Asian invisibility and exclusion to continue to adversely affect further generations of British youth.

Read BEA FAQ for the BBC

Actress Lucy Sheen on "Why-am-i-not-feeling-the-liberte-egalite-fraternite-for-british-east-asians".

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Anna Chen's Chinese Diaspora talk and poetry reading at Liverpool's International Festival of Business China Day


A reminder about Liverpool tomorrow. I'm looking forward to giving my China Diaspora in Britain talk plus a poetry reading from Reaching for my Gnu at the Il Forno Restaurant in Duke Street, Liverpool, tomorrow at 4pm. My dad lived in Liverpool from the 1920s before he moved to London.

It's the International Festival of Business China Day. I'm speaking at Il Forno Restaurant and there's also an Opera for Chinatown in Duke Street.

Details here.

Twitter hashtags: #itsliverpool #IFB2014 #onecityonesummer #iliad

Friday, 13 June 2014

BEA FAQ for the BBC, casting directors and general media


Originally posted along with the BBC robo-letter, British East Asian FAQ for the BBC, casting directors, the media and anyone working in areas where diversity is an issue gets its own page here.

FAQ about BEAs for the benefit of the BBC, casting directors and reviewers.


Q: Is it true that East Asians can only play East Asians?

A: East Asian people are said to possess a wide range of human emotions. If you are nice to them, they are often nice back. If you are horrid, they may very well get cross. If, for example, you are in an accident, you may be lucky enough to find East Asians willing to call an ambulance, staunch the bleeding and tie a tourniquet, clear your airways, crack a joke to cheer you up and phone your mum to let her know you may be some time. In real life in the UK we find Chinese bus drivers, Korean traffic wardens, Thai teachers, plus scientists, lawyers and doctors from a whole slew of East Asian origins. Look out for them — we're sure you'll find them.

Q: Is it true that only East Asians can play East Asians?

A: Yes, when white actors play East Asians — such as John Wayne as Genghis Khan, Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi or Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian pimp — it is called "yellowface". Like "blackface" before it, it is considered bad form by nice people who would not kick a puppy or drown a kitten or otherwise do anything horrid to another sentient being.

Q: Do East Asians have lives outside the takeaway, snakehead gangs and business?

A: Should the takeaway, the restaurant and the casino in your drama already have their full complement of ethnic characters, you may well find other areas where East Asians would fit right in. Having a complicated romance, for example. Discovering a cure for cancer. There's a Chinese doctor whose mitochondrial DNA research proves we all walked out of Africa 70-100 thousand years ago. Think of any human endeavour and we bet you could find an East Asian who has already done it or who is working on it.

Q: Is it true that some East Asians have regional British accents?

A: Human beings tend to absorb and reflect their environment. With over 500,000 Chinese and East Asians in Britain, we think it is likely that some of them will speak Cockney, Scouse, Brummie, Glasgie and so forth.

Q: Do all East Asians do kung fu?

A: Yes. This is something we try and deny to throw you off the scent that we are coming for you.

Q: Is it true that East Asians are all clever?

A: No. Emphatically, no. Did I mention no?

Q: Do East Asians have hobbies or do they unplug themselves when they aren't working in the takeaway or selling dodgy DVDs or hacking?

A: Pertaining to the answer above, you can find them writing poetry, painting and drawing, having tragic romances, raising children, keeping pets and fighting da man.

Q: Are there any East Asians training to be actors? We just don't have a wide enough pool of talent to draw from.

A: Ah, you must be a casting director. Contrary to the myth, there have been Chinese actors in Britain since Burt Kwouk was in short pants and Tsai Chin's dialogue was conducted mostly in short pants for the very varied roles afforded her as Suzy Wong and Juicy Lucy, neither of her characters rocket scientists, sadly. We are confident that a cursory investigation of our drama schools will appraise you as to the number of trained East Asian actors emerging to join those who have been here long time.

Q: European actors have so much character — how can East Asians possibly compete?

A: Acting is a very competitive business but East Asian actors are certainly able to “compete” with their Caucasian counterparts. They no longer have to do this by scrunching up their eyes and doing that buck-tooth smiley thing so beloved of Hollywood back when the world was black and white, and the BBC right up to Sherlock: the reboot. There are more roles in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than the Spooks, Fu Manchu and China dolls dreamt of in your philosophy. A cunning ability to make bad Mandarin sound like good Mandarin to BBC ears will also ensure that one day the said East Asian actor will certainly be able to “compete” with the likes of Benny Cumberbatch and Olly Coleman for all those fantastic quality drama roles once you realise that China is a juicy ol' market, a piece of which you might just want one day.

Q: How come East Asians do submissive nookie so well?

A: We learned this at our grandmothers' tiny lotus feet, grasshopper, and imbibed it with our mothers' milk. Or our wet-nurses' milk if you happen to be a Chinese oligarch. Ha! Only choking. Some might say you were just too darn lazy or lacking in imagination to create, say, a working-class Chinese woman, bright, sparky and political with no business sense whatsoever, who dreams of a better world where we are all equal. Oh ... that would be me.

Q: Doesn't the actor have to reflect the character they portray and include things like ethnicity as well as wider considerations of age, gender, physical appearance and so on?

A: Sometimes we suspect you are just too stupid to do this job and perhaps you shouldn't be clogging up the works with your seething prejudice. At other times, we just think maybe you should get out more. To answer your question, yes, which is why Laurence Olivier made such a good Othello.

The Fairy Princess Diaries: When the BBC told the BEAs to take a Slow Boat to China….

Open letter from the British East Asian Artists in response to the BBC letter.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

British East Asian FAQs for BBC, casting directors and media



Intrepid tweeting British East Asian (BEA) Bess Chan (AKA Katherine Chan) wrote to me attaching a letter she'd received from BBC about lack of BEA representation on the airwaves. She and her friends had been wondering why it was that American East Asians (Asian Americans) are seen as American, whereas BEAs (East Asian Brits) are seen as foreign.

So they asked the BBC. Back came a letter, long-winded where it should have been enlightening, and gleefully patronising, as if addressing a slow six-year old. In light of the many, many, MANY words we BEAs have written to try and communicate our views about cultural participation, depiction and fairness to the various institutions, we find ourselves puzzled and muzzled. What's a po' BEA to do?

Bess wrote, "We realised that it's all American and wanted to find out why British East Asians don't have same opportunities. We decided to find out why and started with BBC as they're funded in part by the people they won't represent."

Good point.

Now: savour the put-downs! Marvel at the total wilful lack of comprehension by this bureaucrat! Gaze aghast at the Orwellian Ministry of Truth in full effect!

Highlights and lowlights from BBC letter Reference CAS-2709995-Y9CFXK


The first thing to assure you of is that the BBC does take all aspects of diversity incredibly seriously, and we have dedicated personnel, policies and protocols all of which help us to achieve our overall aim of fully and fairly representing and reflecting our diverse audiences from across the UK.

As we mentioned previously, yes there is more to do and things simply cannot change overnight [good frikkin' grief! Overnight? Try 'decades'.], especially in the area of television programmes which as you will appreciate can often be made or parts filmed some considerable time, months and years in some cases, before being broadcast. Nevertheless, we have a strong, public commitment to all issues surrounding diversity both on-screen and on-air, behind the cameras and microphones, and across our workforce, partners and suppliers.

You mention ITV holding open castings for disabled actors, and actually although the BBC is structured very differently to ITV of course [dear god!] - for example they are simply one, smallish company which just operates television channels whereas we are a much larger, much more complex and massively more separated multimedia broadcaster with many different and separate departments and divisions as opposed to one all-encompassing department which oversees absolutely everything.

We do undertake a huge range of initiatives to help us achieve our goals, indeed we have done so in partnership with ITV upon occasion. Some people believe that we as a publicly-funded public-service broadcaster should be subject to formal quotas on diversity, but the reality is that this cannot happen as it would be contrary to the Equality Act and would actually result in unfairness to everyone. This is often called "positive discrimination" but as the name itself suggests, it is still "discrimination" and thus still illegal. Of course any of the theatrical industries including television must be able to maintain artistic choice and discretion in what they do. To put it simply the actors hired are employed on the basis of their judged suitability for the role which has been written. You'll understand that the actor does have to reflect the character they portray and, yes, this includes things like ethnicity as well as wider considerations of age, gender, physical appearance and so on. But that's not to say that there is any bias against or in favour of any group of society in terms of television drama productions, which you mention specifically. Something like EastEnders will over time, aim for a very wide range of characters and thus actors to portray them, but as mentioned above what we couldn't do is simply shoehorn a British East Asian family of characters in for no reason or relevance as that would equate to what we've touched upon above, "positive discrimination". [Shoehorn? SHOEHORN? Speaking as an East Ender ... Limehouse, much?]

Things like storylines and future characters in long-running drama serials are very fluid and constantly evolving, and are not an exact science at all. There is absolutely no discrimination by writers and producers against any section of society when considering such things, it's simply about characters, relevance, what can be brought to the wider context of the show and the series as a whole. For something like EastEnders, producers would consider the reality of the east end of London upon which depictions are based, thus questions would be is there a sizeable British East Asian population/presence/culture in the type of area Walford is meant to reflect. The answer might be that whilst there may be a presence, it perhaps doesn't specifically equate to something that could necessarily be part of storylines. Clearly something set elsewhere where there might be a much more prominent and well-established presence, would be handled differently. So, as you can see, there are very many things to consider in this area, and whilst we are naturally sorry to learn that you feel we do not yet have things quite right on-screen, we can assure you that in everything we do, we are all very mindful of not only our obligations in terms of diversity but also the fact that we want to get these things right for exactly the reasons you suggest, ie that we are a broadcaster which serves and thus must reflect our audiences. [We are your audience. Well ... not me, maybe, as I can't stand thickie fodder like Eastenders.]

Our approach, as mentioned, covers everything from fairness and openness in our staff recruitment and employment, through our many dedicated programmes and schemes and partnerships all of which help us to try and attract and retain personnel especially from groups which may be currently under-represented in our workforce, be that people with a disability, older people, women in particular roles, a broader range of backgrounds and ethnicities and so on. All these things of course help level the playing field and, ultimately, benefit us by making a better, more rounded workforce. The same ideas apply to on-air personnel as explained earlier, in that we want the best and most suitable person for the requirements of the role but whilst no-one is excluded or discriminated against, as mentioned a medium like television does have to allow programme makers the ability to have a very wide choice based on the dramatic and artistic requirements upon them. [War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength, all you Orwell lovers.]

What the BBC cannot possibly do, of course, is be responsible for the talent pool of actors out there, put simply we ourselves cannot create British East Asian actors, we have to rely on schools, colleges, drama clubs and schools, the theatre and so on to identify, train and nurture young talent which then feeds through to the wider British cultural scene including BBC TV and Radio.

We are simply one broadcaster and programme-maker amongst many including countless independent and commercial production companies and so on, all of whom share the responsibility for casting and employing. The BBC does not oversee or govern such things itself, nor should we, as it is not our role to create actors, nor is it our role to guarantee acting work to anyone not least based on their background or ethicity. But what we can and do do is work with many different partners across the country and support emerging talent through schemes, initiatives and projects to encourage talent to come forward, ie to encourage applications and approaches from people from groups which might be under-represented.

Again, this goes back to the notion of wishing to encourage and inspire without "positively discriminating". So, British East Asian actors can compete against any other actor, but the key word is compete because this is one of the most - indeed, perhaps the most, competitive industries there is thus there is huge competition for every role and every position with countless people being left disappointed of course, but that's the reality of the performing arts.

All the above said, British East Asian actors and presenters have and continue to appear across a wide and diverse range of BBC programming. One only has to think of the wonderfully bubbly and popular Pui Fan Lee who of course made her name in CBeebies' international hit Teletubbies and subsequently appeared as herself fronting our children's programme Show Me Show Me amongst many, many others often alongside Chris Jarvis. Indeed she was the first person who appeared on CBeebies when we launched the channel thus she enjoys a hugely high profile on the BBC having also acted in our Chef! comedy series and our gritty drama State of Play. Daphne Cheung has been a film and television regular for many years including on the BBC, most recently in the dramas Holby City and Spooks, and our wonderfully dark comedy series Psychoville but more recently of course in Channel 4's wonderful Friday Night Dinner; Jing Lusi as the inimitable Dr Tara in BBC One's fantastically popular Holby City - across two series; the fantastic and critically acclaimed actress Jessica Henwick as the Bafta-nominated lead in our award-winning Spirit Warriors, plus work across BBC Radio including the Sony Award-nominated North by Northamptonshire, BBC Four's internationally-acclaimed The Thick Of It, BBC One drama Silk of course (and the planned future companion series); the super-stylish Scottish actress Katie Leung in the BBC's GK Chesterton adaptations of the Father Brown crime mysteries, who is also set to appear in an upcoming BBC Two drama; the wonderful Benedict Wong has had many and various roles in a huge range of TV programmes often with Channel 4 but also in a number of BBC roles including Spooks and State of Play plus Peter Serafinowicz's comedy Look Around You followed by BBC Two's The Peter Serafinowicz Show of course; Yao Chin, who is of course more well known now as being a television news journalist made his television acting debuts, after many stage appearances, in BBC programmes including Dalziel & Pascoe and Casualty early in his career.

We did mention Burt Kwok {Er, that's Burt Kwouk to the rest of us.] previously but it is worth reiterating that he has appeared on countless BBC programmes over the years right back to Tony Hancock's radio shows in the 1950s, he was adored by many millions in Last of the Summer Wine for many, many years of course, plus many other high profile BBC series over the decades from Judge John Deed to Silent Witness, to the award-winning Spirit Warriors alongside Tom Wu and others, most recently of course over on ITV as Harry Hill's long-suffering comedy sidekick; and one must not forget the fabulous David Yip in the seminal BBC drama The Chinese Detective all those years ago which remains as a truly groundbreaking, artistic masterpiece of television, a central work in British culture, which led to many and various roles with the BBC and elsewhere, including of course a successful global film career. [This is sounding like BBC Stepford.] The above is simply a tiny snapshot by way of a few examples to try and demonstrate that clearly there is no lack of opportunity for British East Asian actors across the BBC, and whilst some of the above examples are of course historical, we wanted to make the point that some of the biggest and best BBC programmes over many years have featured these wonderful actors including in lead and award-winning and -nominated roles in award-winning and -nominated programmes across all genres from children’s to one-off and serial dramas and comedy to political satire. [And that's it?]

We appreciate that you feel more could and should be done and we share your ambition for more British East Asians to appear on BBC programmes and be part of our workforce to ensure that we continue to work towards becoming fully and fairly reflective of all aspects of modern British culture. In closing, we're again sorry that our earlier reply missed the mark thus requiring you to get back in touch, but we would like to thank you for doing so thus affording us another opportunity to reply to your concerns, concerns which we hope we have allayed to some degree at least here.

Kind Regards
BBC Complaints

That ain't a response — that's a software programme gone wrong.

So bereft of comprehension was it that Madam Miaow felt compelled to write a FAQ U BBC.

FAQs about BEAs for the BBC, casting directors and reviewers:


Q: Is it true that East Asians can only play East Asians?

A: East Asian people are said to possess a wide range of human emotions. If you are nice to them, they are often nice back. If you are horrid, they may very well get cross. If, for example, you are in an accident, you may be lucky enough to find East Asians willing to call an ambulance, staunch the bleeding and tie a tourniquet, clear your airways, crack a joke to cheer you up and phone your mum to let her know you may be some time. In real life in the UK we find Chinese bus drivers, Korean traffic wardens, Thai teachers, plus scientists, lawyers and doctors from a whole slew of East Asian origins. Look out for them — we're sure you'll find them.

Q: Is it true that only East Asians can play East Asians?

A: Yes, when white actors play East Asians — such as John Wayne as Genghis Khan, Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi or Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian pimp — it is called "yellowface". Like "blackface" before it, it is considered bad form by nice people who would not kick a puppy or drown a kitten or otherwise do anything horrid to another sentient being.

Q: Do East Asians have lives outside the takeaway, snakehead gangs and business?

A: Should the takeaway, the restaurant and the casino in your drama already have their full complement of ethnic characters, you may well find other areas where East Asians would fit right in. Having a complicated romance, for example. Discovering a cure for cancer. There's a Chinese doctor whose mitochondrial DNA research proves we all walked out of Africa 70-100 thousand years ago. Think of any human endeavour and we bet you could find an East Asian who has already done it or who is working on it.

Q: Is it true that some East Asians have regional British accents?

A: Human beings tend to absorb and reflect their environment. With over 500,000 Chinese and East Asians in Britain, we think it is likely that some of them will speak Cockney, Scouse, Brummie, Glasgie and so forth.

Q: Do all East Asians do kung fu?

A: Yes. This is something we try and deny to throw you off the scent that we are coming for you.

Q: Is it true that East Asians are all clever?

A: No. Emphatically, no. Did I mention no?

Q: Do East Asians have hobbies or do they unplug themselves when they aren't working in the takeaway or selling dodgy DVDs or hacking?

A: Pertaining to the answer above, you can find them writing poetry, painting and drawing, having tragic romances, raising children, keeping pets and fighting da man.

Q: Are there any East Asians training to be actors? We just don't have a wide enough pool of talent to draw from.

A: Ah, you must be a casting director. Contrary to the myth, there have been Chinese actors in Britain since Burt Kwouk was in short pants and Tsai Chin's dialogue was conducted mostly in short pants for the very varied roles afforded her as Suzy Wong and Juicy Lucy, neither of her characters rocket scientists, sadly. We are confident that a cursory investigation of our drama schools will appraise you as to the number of trained East Asian actors emerging to join those who have been here long time.

Q: European actors have so much character — how can East Asians possibly compete?

A: Acting is a very competitive business but East Asian actors are certainly able to “compete” with their Caucasian counterparts. They no longer have to do this by scrunching up their eyes and doing that buck-tooth smiley thing so beloved of Hollywood back when the world was black and white, and the BBC right up to Sherlock: the reboot. There are more roles in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than the Spooks, Fu Manchu and China dolls dreamt of in your philosophy. A cunning ability to make bad Mandarin sound like good Mandarin to BBC ears will also ensure that one day the said East Asian actor will certainly be able to “compete” with the likes of Benny Cumberbatch and Olly Coleman for all those fantastic quality drama roles once you realise that China is a juicy ol' market, a piece of which you just might want one day.

Q: How come East Asians do submissive nookie so well?

A: We learned this at our grandmothers' tiny lotus feet, grasshopper, and imbibed it with our mothers' milk. Or our wet-nurses' milk if you happen to be a Chinese oligarch. Ha! Only choking. Some might say you were just to darn lazy or lacking in imagination to create, say, a working-class Chinese woman, bright, sparky and political with no business sense whatsoever, who dreams of a better world where we are all equal. Oh ... that would be me.

Q: Doesn't the actor have to reflect the character they portray and include things like ethnicity as well as wider considerations of age, gender, physical appearance and so on?

A: Sometimes we suspect you are just too stupid to do this job and perhaps you shouldn't be clogging up the works with your seething prejudice. At other times, we just think maybe you should get out more. To answer your question, yes, which is why Laurence Olivier made such a good Othello.

The Fairy Princess Diaries: When the BBC told the BEAs to take a Slow Boat to China….

FAQ about BEA for the BBC, casting directors and media.

In 2005, Ofcom allowed public service broadcasters to keep their equality monitoring "confidential". BAME participation fell off a cliff. BAME workers in the TV industry have fallen 30.9 per cent 2006-2012. In 2010, Ofcom dropped their Broadcasting Training and Equality Programme which evidently didn't help.

Open letter from the British East Asian Artists in response to the BBC letter.

Rik Mayall RIP: when I met Rik. Briefly.



Sadly, a classic case of the cutting room floor, but my mate Kirstin and I were in The Art of Noise Peter Gunn video starring Rik Mayall.

We thought he was cute as well as funny. Kirstin flirted outrageously and asked him how much he was getting paid for being in it, and was it the same as us (ha ha!)? He looked appalled and said he wouldn't get out of bed for that little.

I was in a big black hat, throwing shapes in the nightclub scene (whatever happened to that footage?) but you can see Kirstin. One of those hands is hers!

RIP Rik. You will always be forever Young One to me.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Higher wages won in Seattle supported by electorate: Ed Miliband should watch this


Workers across America are winning a living wage.

Halfway decent minimum wages work … certainly better than what we currently have. An important principle is grasped in America and is spreading. Let's hope the same happens here.

Ed Miliband should remember this when the Labour right are pressing him to emulate Ukip.

Will Hutton writes in the Observer:
Last Monday, the mayor of Seattle signed into law a city-wide minimum wage of $15 (£8.90) an hour. … chronically low-paid work does not make any sense. It is bad for business. It chokes demand for goods and services, even for fast food. There is no worker loyalty or commitment, just a mass of desperate, distracted men and women permanently on the look-out for a better job. … "People look at the $27bn (£16bn) in profit Walmart makes every year and they celebrate it without connecting it to the fact that Walmart workers are the biggest recipients of food stamps in the country and are all in poverty." But, Hanauer adds: "If you say to them, look, we can live in a world where Walmart made $17bn (£10bn) in profit and each one of the million lowest-paid Walmart workers would earn $10,000 (£5,900) more a year and all of them would be able to buy more stuff from your business, and you don't have to pay food stamps, then they're like, 'Oh, shit, we should do that!'"

Read more here.

Aditya Chakrabortty on rising poverty while the rich get richer.
...when Ipsos Mori asked the public this spring which issue they considered the most important in Britain, poverty/inequality had its strongest showing ever, ranking above schools, hospitals, crime, inflation, pensions and housing. … Branson and the train operators, who make easy money for investing next to nothing; the utilities, which pay their investors handsomely, pay the taxman next to nothing and expect the British public to stump up for their investment; Serco and Capita and G4S, with their business models of running public services for as much profit as possible.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Chinese Diaspora talk and poetry in Liverpool 18th June

Opera for Chinatown, Liverpool by The Sound Agents.

Anna Chen gives her Chinese Diaspora in Britain talk and reads poetry at the International Festival of Business China Day launching 'Opera for Chinatown' in Liverpool. 


I'm really looking forward to doing this live event in Liverpool.

"Writer, poet and broadcaster Anna Chen is coming to Liverpool on the 18th June to celebrate International Festival of Business IFB China Day and to launch The Sound Agents 'Opera for Chinatown' public art work in Duke Street. The event will take place in Il Forno restaurant in Duke Street at 4 pm. Booking Essential."

Anna Chen's talk on the history of the Chinese Diaspora In Britain includes the fascinating stories of the first Chinese visitors to Britain such as the Jesuit priest Michael Shen Futsong in the 17th century; her father and the politics of the time including the seafarers, Liverpool and his early role in London's Chinatown; the opium wars and the East India Trading Company; how Chinese scientific and cultural innovations affected Europe; the current changing political balance in the UK and representation in the arts; and the Fu Manchu Yellow Peril scare. Plus poetry. Far from being cowed, craven and submissive as depicted in colonialist popular culture, Anna shows that the Chinese in Britain were able to resist exploitation: her own father helped to found the Chinese Seaman's Union and was active in the Save China campaign during the Japanese occupation of China.

I'll be reading poetry from her collection, Reaching for my Gnu (pub: Aaaarh! Press) and some new ones.

More info here

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Trophy Asian woman in Holby City, rice kings rejoice: guest post by Daniel York


Holby City acquires East Asian woman character — Guest post by Daniel York


The BBC make me laugh.

First up, well done. No, really. Well done to them for introducing a female East Asian character in Holby City (Amy Teo played by my friend, Wendy Kweh) who, for once, is in a position of seniority, and for giving her so large a share of storyline. It’s a shame, however, that this storyline seems to revolve around her romantic and sexual relationships with two white men.

Before anyone says anything, let me just say that I have absolutely no issue with East Asian women having relationships with white men, or any other kind of men for that matter. But when that’s literally ALL WE SEE on our TV screens, this becomes highly problematic. Where is the East Asian male in all this? At home, doing the accounts and playing with his stereotypical needle-dick?

You can almost imagine all the earnest BBC types in the planning meeting going, “Oh, but oriental men don’t DO that sort of thing, do they?” How China got to be the world’s most populous nation will remain forever a mystery, I guess. The truth, though, is probably far more prosaic than that. The East Asian Male has probably never even occurred to them.

Of course, I can hear the defence now: “We don’t even consider colour”. No, from a position of privilege where it’s never once affected them, I’m sure they don't. How else would they come up with a storyline as blatantly colonial as “Lone Chinese Female as sexual 'prize' of two all-conquering white males”?

I can vividly remember the BBC Head Of Series announcing to me with some pride that “She (the character of Amy Teo) is married to JOE MACFADDEN”. I’m sure this wasn’t intentional but it was nearly impossible not to be smacked with the subtext of, “Hey, look, one of 'your people' has bagged herself the hunk from Heartbeat." (No, I’ve never watched it either). But that’s how it looks from up there. “There’s one of you, isn’t there? You should be grateful!”

On the last point, I would add that I even hear that from fellow East Asians. “Well, at least there’s a Chinese character” or, “Well, there are only a few of us." Never mind the fact we’re the fastest growing minority group, contributing way beyond our weight to the British economy. Personally, I think we deserve better.

Daniel York is an actor and playwright. He was central to the Royal Shakespeare Company The Orphan of Zhao controversy, challenged by the British East Asian Artists.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Tiananmen Square 25 years on: princelings versus little emperors


In the summer of 1989, protesters gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square for a range of reasons. Some might have yearned for an idealised Western capitalist system, but a whole lot more were there to defend rights won under the revolution and now being reversed by Deng Xiaoping.

What united the various strands was the expectation that you should be able to protest freely without the government setting the People's Liberation Army onto you. Hundreds of students and workers were killed in the square and in western Beijing. Casualties also included soldiers.

Within my own family, one of my half-sisters asked of my father, "I thought you said the PLA would never be turned against its own people".

My father, an old-timer who believed that the communists had offered the only way out from the madness and cruelty of a feudal China that had fallen out of the imperial wok and into the warlord (and imperialist) flames, was shaken. Footage of a burning army vehicle in which soldiers died provided a flimsy retrospective excuse for the brutal crackdown, but this editing of events left out enormous slices of the chronology of events and was less than entirely convincing.

Perhaps the protesters' biggest crime was the loss of face delivered by the occupation of the square during a visit by Mikhail Gorbachev, president of China's arch-rival, the USSR.

Some heartening examples of the humane impulse emerged. One story had the general at the head of the first military force which rolled towards the square, on being told that his daughter and her fellow students at Beijing University were present, refusing to carry out his orders. He is said to have spent years under arrest. As we untangle events, this may be an embellishment of Major General Xu Qinxian of the 38th Group Army who said, “I’d rather be beheaded than be a criminal in the eyes of history”.

Then there's the famous image of the office worker with his shopping bags who stood in the path of a line of tanks, risking his life. It should also be noted that the tank driver did not squish him like a bug, indicating confusion and conflicting imperatives even within the PLA.

Conflict existed inside the CCP, too. On 19th May, the sixth day of the students' hunger strike, Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang entered the square and said ominously that he was sorry but he was too late. Martial law was then declared across the city.

Outside the square, the residents of Beijing rescued as many injured demonstrators as they could sweep off the streets and out of range of the authorities, sometimes sheltering them in their own homes.

Much of the Western reporting at the time, based on a Cold War reading that this was solely about student demands for a change to a Western style bourgeois consumer-capitalist democracy, just muddied the issue. I never saw one worker being interviewed, or their actual demands aired.

Andy Newman wrote: "... the dominant strand of these pro-democracy protesters was actually demanding not free multi-party elections, but an acceleration of privatisation and deregulation; for which Western democracy had become identified among the intellectual class. … the vast majority of China’s population, the rural peasantry, were at this time benefitting from the economic reforms, following the decollectivisation of agriculture from 1979 to 1981, that saw sharply rising living standards … At the time of the protests in 1989, the CCP were already introducing economic reforms to the manufacturing and urban economy. Zhao Ziyang was for the second time bringing in adventurist price reforms that deregulated the cost of basic necessities, at the same time as getting workers to sign agreements that cut their wages, and factories were laying off workers. So the economic reforms were experienced as a direct attack on the working class."

Mao Zedong said that in four generations the communist cadre would all be bourgeois. That fourth generation has now arrived.

There are two competing classes in contention for ownership of the narrative: the princes and princesses of the old order versus the little emperors of the new one. The children of the intellectuals lost their privilege and wealth and suffered horribly, but few writing today express concern about the workers and peasants who suffered under the old system. Someone had to muck out the pigs and work in the fields — was it so wrong for the intellectuals to have been expected to take a turn? They call it torture, peasants call it the day job.

This sidelined group is now watching the children of the Communist cadre (who were supposed to administer national assets for the Chinese masses) become billionaires off appropriated wealth. Some see it as their wealth that's been thieved, and they may well have a point.

There's a third class — the peasants and the workers who make our stuff — which is rarely heard. Ultimately, it was their collective wealth that's been purloined, and it's this group that I hope is finding their muscle and their voice in the new China.

Jimmy Savile strikebreaker at Broadmoor: Panorama tonight 8.30pm

Watch Savile: The Power to Abuse - BBC1 Panorama 8.30pm, Monday 2nd June 2014. 


As we wait for the BBC's own report into the Jimmy Savile scandal, shocking but unsurprising insights into how Jimmy Savile held onto power emerge in tonight's Panorama investigation.

Edwina Currie went along with Savile who was blackmailing Broadmoor nurses for subletting their accommodation, threatening to grass them up if they went on strike.

A Tory agenda and sex abuse united in crushing a nurses' strike using blackmail threats. One wonders what other blackmail was going on.

A sex abuse carte blanche in return for oppressing labour — as good a metaphor and expression of capitalism as you're likely to get.

It is hoped that the BBC's Panorama Savile investigation gets it right at last and vindicates Meirion Jones and Liz Mackean, even if the corporation had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the open.

Panorama 8.30 tonight on BBC1.

Savile notched up at least 500 victims, some as young as 2. More here.

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