An open letter to Fremantle Media and Neighbours from lifelong Neighbours fans

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Zara Swanton started this petition to Fremantle Media and

We welcome the news that Fremantle Media have asked Campfire X to conduct an independent review of Neighbours and the production process.

We write to you to tell you how concerned we are as fans, of the incidents of racism; bullying and discrimination being reported by several cast members and to ask for a detailed action plan with timescales for addressing the issues. We demand that details of the investigation are published in their entirety, and that new policies and procedures regarding equality, diversity and inclusivity; discrimination; safeguarding and disciplinary process are created and made public. We believe that the current HR leadership team need to be replaced, as they do not appear to be taking complaints of racism seriously or acting appropriately or proportionately. A new code of ethics should be created and published, with at least annual reporting published against measures taken.

We also ask that this approach is taken towards all work conducted within Fremantle Australia, as it is clear from the comments of many actors on social media these past two days that the film and TV industry is, sadly, rife with similar examples.

All people should feel safe from racism, and all discrimination, in the workplace. Actors, writers, directors, crew, suppliers, drivers, producers and everyone associated with the production should be able to go to work without hearing racist terminology. Procedures must be robust enough to allow these incidents to be reported, and taken seriously. Employees must feel supported to bring these issues forward. It is difficult to see how any person working on the show will feel confident and safe to bring these issues to HR, when there are reports of these issues being completely dismissed.

Investigating individual incidents is not sufficient to tackle institutional racism. From the stories we have seen yesterday from Shareena Clanton and Meyne Wyatt, it appears that racism is embedded within the culture at Neighbours. 

Former actors have witnessed sexism, bullying, protection of offenders and the lack of reprimanding of these offenders. Meyne Wyatt witnessed racism and homophobia during 2014-2016 and it’s extremely concerning that this culture of inappropriate workplace conduct has been allowed to grow and become normalised in what on the outside seemed to be a diverse and welcoming TV show.   

Shareena Clanton has documented many instances of racism in the last few months that she felt and witnessed. These issues were reported at the time. Why were they not taken seriously and strong action taken? 

That people are comfortable enough to use the N-word or C-word in the workplace shows that this is a problem within the culture, and is not just the actions of individuals. Indeed, the individual who has used the N-word has received very little reprisal, and extra training. If Fremantle does not stipulate consequences for racist speech or hate speech, then it enables and actively supports those who use racist and hateful language. To segregate the green room spaces to "keep the peace between cast members and crew", as stated in the Guardian, is actively a racist act. If an actor repeatedly uses the N-word and separate spaces are provided to keep the peace, it can only be interpreted that the peace is kept by ensuring cast and crew of colour cannot hear racist terms, and therefore cannot object to them. This is an act of deliberately protecting racist speech. 

Further to this, such language is in contravention of The Racial Discrimination Act 1975, registered 29th January 2016. Section 18C states:

(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:


                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and


                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.


There can be no doubt that use of the N-word will offend, insult, humiliate and intimidate. 

There can be no misunderstanding about this. 

As lifelong fans of the show, we have supported and loved Neighbours. We belong to fan groups, we make pilgrimages to the set, we introduce our children and grandchildren to the show. We have dedicated thousands of hours, months and years of our lives to living on Ramsay Street vicariously through the characters in the wonderful world you have built. But Neighbours, we see you. We see that regular non-white cast members are brought in to white families. We see the Tanaka brothers assigned to Paul Robinson, the Sharmas as an extension of the Rebecchis. Levi is a Canning. We see how few indigenous actors and black actors appear on screen. The last family of colour in the show without a white family member were the Kapoors; one was killed off and the rest departed in 2013. Other representations have happened as supporting characters. People of Colour are not merely supporting characters in white lives. We ask you to do better.

In 2013 we wrote to you concerned with the departure of the Kapoor family, and requesting that more representation is shown on screen. Recent events show us that this issue goes much deeper than casting. 

In 2015, Clementine Ford wrote a paper asking the simple question, “Does Neighbours really represent Australia?” in which was highlighted the lack of representation in this show outlining the points raised in this letter. Melbourne was grown out of migration. Don’t you think a show set in Melbourne, seen by people around the world should represent that?

To make this happen there needs to be change at all levels. There must be greater diversity in the cast, the crew, the producers and executives, the writers, the directors, the creatives, the suppliers and everyone else.

Neighbours has prided itself in tackling difficult issues, but in order to do this sensitively and respectfully, appropriate advisors must be employed. For an actor and activist to feel so unsafe with the cultural sensitivity that they employed a cultural advisor out of their own pocket should be considered extremely embarrassing. Why did Neighbours consider it appropriate to write these stories without advice? To try to handle these stories without advice, and without due credit to contributors, is performative wokeness, and is meaningless if what is preached isn't practiced. Those actors and actresses from marginalised groups, must have their voices heard in regards to sensitive issues. 

Everyone is welcome on Ramsay Street. But when you make it welcome to racism you make it less welcome to the people whose voices you are trying to amplify. Everyone has the right to come to work and be protected against discrimination. It shouldn't be comfortable to make racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, and there needs to be consequences for doing so.

We hope to see robust change soon. As a minimum, until the results of the report and the action plan detailing the steps that Fremantle will take are released, we hope to see a letter to all cast, crew and others associated with the show outlining codes of conduct, with a reminder of their contractual obligations and current legislation regarding discrimination.

We look forward to seeing these changes, and to seeing Shareena's scenes when they hit the UK. However, knowing what she endured on set these scenes will be uncomfortable to watch. Moving forward, if robust safeguards and meaningful change is not achieved, we the undersigned will have no other option but to boycott Neighbours.

If you have been moved by the events of this week, please consider supporting and donating to these organisations focused around the arts celebrating First Nations, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous people.

https://ilbijerri.com.au/ - donate at https://www.mycause.com.au/charity/8045/IlbijerriTheatreCompany

https://www.blakdance.org.au/

 

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