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Why Diverse Voices in our Media Matter

Updated: Mar 14

How refreshing it was to see Michelle Yeoh at the academy awards this week make history as the first Asian woman to win best actress. In her acceptance speech she said, “For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities.”

 

Her speech was reminiscent of Oprah Winfrey’s at the Golden Globes ceremony in 2018, when she became the first black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille award. Oprah paid tribute to ‘all the little black girls watching at home’ to inspire them to dream big.




Michelle Yeoh is the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress (Photo: Kathy Hutchins)

 

Another big dreamer, Vietnamese-American Ke Huy Quan, won best supporting actor at this year’s Academy Awards. As a child, Quan had a few decent parts in major films, but as an adult he struggled to score roles. He’d almost given up on his acting ambitions until he saw the movie, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. It motivated him to ask his agent to give him another go. Thank goodness he did.


Oprah Winfrey was the first black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 2018 Golden Globes.


We’ve long known it’s vital to see people like ourselves reflected in films, media and popular culture. When I was a kid growing up in the ’70s I thought it would be cool to be a singer and guitarist in a rock band but believed that only boys could do that. I wondered why men usually had more interesting jobs than women. Thankfully, Suzie Quatro burst onto the music scene and proved women can rock as well.

 

While I never joined a band, I did go on to have an ‘interesting job,’ as the second-only female TV reporter at Channel Nine in Adelaide. On my first day, the chief-of-staff stood up in the newsroom and said, “Well fellas, we all know a newsroom is no place for sheilas, but I guess we’ll have to put up with them.”

 

In the Sunday Times bestseller, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, the author Reni Eddo-Lodge recalls as a little girl how excited she was when the auditions for the Harry Potter films were announced. Reni imagined herself as Hermione Granger, Harry Potter’s brainy school chum and muggle-born witch. She asked her mother if she could audition, but was was told the casting agency was only looking for white girls to play Hermione. Reni was devastated.

 

Finally, in 2015, black actress Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London’s West End and Reni Eddo-Lodge went on to become the first black British author to hit the UK’s bestseller book list. Ah, sweet justice!

 

It seems that ever so slowly the dial is turning, and our media, popular culture, and publishing worlds are beginning to reflect the audiences they seek to inform and entertain.

Despite the headlines, there are still plenty of yawning gaps. The recently released Women in Media Gender Scorecard revealed that of all the experts quoted in news reports, barely a third are women. The figures are far worse when it comes to media representation of people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

 

I wish I could wave a magic wand, like Hermione and right the wrongs of the world. But sadly, that’s beyond me. However, I do have some magic up my sleeve.


In the ’70s, Suzie Quatro broke new ground as a rock singer and bassist

 

As a media skills trainer, I have transformed hundreds of nervous ‘answer-people’ into confident ‘spokespeople’.

 

It’s not really a magic trick; it involves role-playing media interviews on camera, play back, specific and generous feedback, proven structures for key messages and strategies to stay in charge of an interview with a journalist or public presentation. It also involves identifying and building on people’s natural strengths and recommending realistic changes for improvement. It’s also about practice, practice and more practice.

 

We need experts from all backgrounds to step up to the microphone to share their stories. I’m also passionate about elevating more spokeswomen from a range of industries to be ‘media-ready’. They might not be making academy award acceptance speeches, but their wisdom and professional opinions are just as valuable for us to hear and see.

 

If only half the country’s experts are speaking up, we’re only hearing half the story. And that disadvantages all of us.

 

I’m calling on industry leaders to identify potential spokeswoman and give them the necessary training and encouragement to help them shine.

 

And finally, I’d like to see more older women represented in our news coverage, on our screens, and on corporate boards. It’s never too late to learn new tricks. As Michelle Yeoh also said at the Oscars, “Ladies, don’t let anybody ever tell you, you are past your prime.”


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