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Aboriginal actors want share of the action

By Alexa Moses
April 26 2002

Providing indigenous actors opportunities ... Aaron Pedersen.

When watching television as a kid, Australian actor Aaron Pedersen remembers thinking that everyone in the country must be white. "And when I did see Aboriginals, which was rare, they were getting arrested or being drunk. I knew Aboriginals who were doctors, lawyers, community leaders, and I thought 'this is not right'."

Pedersen - along with The Secret Life of Us star Deborah Mailman, Ernie Dingo and young Everlyn Sampi from Rabbit-Proof Fence - is one of the few indigenous actors who have made their names in the Australian film and television industry.

"However we address it, it is a sensitive subject," he says. "Tokenism is a bad thing, but opportunity is a good thing."

The South Sydney Council is trying to provide that opportunity for young inner-city Koori talent, with a new actors agency called Lights, Camera, Action. The agency is intended to encourage employment for indigenous Australians in the film and television industry.

Although it is not yet fully established, it has already some success. Four children on its books have already featured in a television ad.

Youth officer Cindi Petersen, of the South Sydney Council, says the agency stems from a similar project at Glebe. There, she worked with 15 young people. Lights, Camera, Action involves 100 young Koori actors.

Petersen says more Aboriginal-specific roles should be written by Aboriginal scriptwriters and indigenous people should have more representation in the media.

"There should be a true and honest demographic of the Australian community. There's less representation of Aboriginal people on television in comparison to the amount in the population," she says.

Aaron Pedersen, who is now working on the new ABC drama Medical Defence Australia, with Kerry Armstrong and Jason Donovan, says the perception that Aborigines can play only
Aboriginal roles is a problem.

"I've found that sometimes certain production companies won't employ you because they say they don't have an 'Aboriginal role' for you," he says. "I say, 'but I'm an actor. It's for a 27-year-old lawyer! Let me have a go'."

He says the casting of Mailman in The Secret Life of Us was a step in the right direction.

"Anyone could play that role, and they chose an Aboriginal."

Pedersen says that Lights, Camera, Action is "unbelievably positive," and he hopes it will change the industry's view of indigenous actors. "At the end of the day I want to see my own soul up there," he says.

"I know Aboriginal people who see me see their own souls. It helps us not to be alienated any more."

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