Diversity on Screen: Asian Australians and ‘The Family Law’ on SBS

By Mark Mariano:

Let me begin by saying how great 2016 has been so far in terms of multicultural programming, and it goes without saying that The Family Law has pioneered the movement with its bold January release.

Spanning across six episodes, this fam-com (based on Law’s book of the same name) follows a young Benjamin Law on his journey to stardom. While the show is mainly from Ben’s perspective, the SBS series hits home with its hilarious albeit accurate portrayal of his immigrant Asian Australian family dealing with regular family woes, including, but not limited to; romantic dysfunction to the point of parental separation, a father’s disapproval of his eldest daughter’s boyfriend, the bickering of young sisters, and the perils of having a soon-to-be-famous family member.

Besides its ingenious writing, witty yet subtle jokes and humble production values, more needs to be said about the scenes with pure Chinese dialogue, a rarity on Australian TV. We are given a glimpse into Asian culture, with this series being a depiction that doesn’t place Asians in a farcical light. It is so incredibly refreshing to see a full Asian cast playing an Asian family. Law is breaking down huge barriers to casting within the Australian film industry and by default; Law has catalysed a movement that will inspire many young Asian Australians to pursue their dreams in whatever career they chose. More also needs to be said about Trystan Go’s incredible encapsulation of Benjamin Law. Go plays a little with Ben’s ambiguous yet somewhat assumable sexuality in a way that doesn’t ridicule homosexuality.

The Family Law switches things up a little, with its Caucasian characters instead being the archetypical sidekicks (Ben’s friend Melissa, played by Bethany Whitmore). You know who I’m talking about, the ones that say the occasional supportive yet mundane line that pushes the main character into motion (Gilmore Girl’s Lane Kim).

We saw it briefly in the long running Aussie classic ‘Neighbours’, in which Hany Lee plays the heavily Korean ‘Sunny’. Ethnic comic relief has twisted cultural representation not only domestically, but in many Western films. May it be Ken Jeong in ‘ The Hangover’ or ‘Community’, or Sofia Vergara on ‘Modern Family’, or Lucy Liu in anything. It wasn’t until the likes of Rush Hour in 1998 where Asian and African American actors were able to mainline a successful film franchise. With Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off The Boat, Lee Lin Chin’s ‘The Weekend Shift’, alongside her rise to fame on every social media platform and of course The Family Law, soon the Asian/Black/Hispanic comedic side character trope will be a thing of the past.

If TV were a theme park, The Family Law bursts onto the scene as the underrated yet enjoyable rollercoaster sure to put a smile on your face. Grab your own copy of the first season now and prepare yourself for the second season in 2017, confirmed on Law’s Instagram.

 

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Image: The Family Law, SBS

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