During the 90’s and Noughties Greeks were everywhere in Australia. The success of comedy productions ‘Wogs out of Work’ and ‘Acropolis Now’ not only broke audience records for both stage and screen but took the Greek Australian experience mainstream. The ‘Heartbreak Kid’, ‘Head On’ and TV show ‘The Slap’ further explored the second generation in adapting to an ever changing culture. But in recent times there has been a distinct lack of Greek Australian stories and characters on TV and film screens.
This decline was clearly notable when Neos Kosmos attended the 2019 Sydney Film Festival (SFF). Ana Kokkinos’ film ‘Blessed‘, which came out 20 years ago, was the only Greek-Australian screening there. Kokkinos, on the SFF jury that awarded the main prize, told Neos Kosmos that the absence of Hellenic stories was troubling.
“There were a number of us making films but the industry here has been crippled by the various (funding) cuts,” Kokkinos said, pointing to the lack of cultural mix from those at the top as a major factor behind the lack of Greek Australian stories.
“There is still not enough diversity within our producers, directors and even our writers.
“You still predominantly get a white Anglo middle class set of industry professionals largely telling our stories, our Australian stories, and that is often still not including our diversity and it is something we are capable of. So again it’s a difficult, complicated issue.”
Filmmaker Mary Tournazi’s latest documentary, ‘Rembetika Blues’ tracks her grandmother’s journey through images of the Smyrna disaster in 1922 and the arrival of refugees into the port of Piraeus. While she laments the lack of Greek Australian stories on screens, she believes that historically, the migrant experience has also been absent.
“It’s always been hard to get migrant stories in the mainstream, bottom line,” she said. “I agree that it’s even harder today; a decade ago there would’ve been more Greek stories. What’s important is the passion behind the story. You have to fight to tell the story. We have to keep doing that because there is a vacuum in the mainstream that doesn’t tell different histories and stories full stop.”
Dr Dimitria Groutsis, author of ‘Cracking the Glass Cultural Ceiling’ and ‘Beyond the Pale’, has highlighted how culturally diverse men and women face blockages in gaining leadership positions in Australian companies.
“There are multiple problems in not seeing people with a diverse range of backgrounds in these various areas of society,” she told Neos Kosmos. “One is that it’s about role modelling. If you aren’t seeing yourself represented you are not really going to be motivated to pursue it, it becomes difficult for you to really gain a pathway into that arena. Or you end up becoming like the poster child and that can become quite exhausting as well. Being this singled out diverse person.”
Greek Cypriot Australian actress Andrea Demetridades has played various ethnic characters, but has yet to play one from own heritage. She told Neos Kosmos she is on the lookout for that Hellenic creative to write that role for her.
“It’s a very exciting time in the film and TV industry, there are so many platforms, and I’m just waiting for these stories,” she said. “I can’t blame a white, middle aged man for not writing a character about an Australian woman, who has a Greek Cypriot background who was born in Perth.”
With Greeks firmly settled into Australian society following the post migrant boom of the 50’s and 60’s, Kokkinos believes that mainstream society has shifted its interest to other cultures.
“There is an element that now we’ve had our time and that we’ve had our moment and that we are no longer relevant in a cultural artistic sense,” she said, adding that new immigrants have entered the fold. “There is something about a zeitgeist and at the moment there is more energy about the possibility of more Asian and African stories.”
Kokkinos also believes that the market has waned because the wider population has become comfortable with how Greek Australians have melded into society now that “we’ve had a degree of assimilation”.
“We still make good cakes and coffee I suppose. But in the arts we seem to have seen a drop-off in creative activity,” she said.
“When we made ‘Head On’ we created a wave of enthusiasm about our culture and it was hot to be Greek at that time.”
Meanwhile theatre actor Chris Argiroussis who recently appeared in Alex Lykos’ latest film ‘Me and My Left Brain’ feels that Greeks aren’t out of fashion but that their collective experiences have changed since being ‘Wogs out of Work.’
“I refuse to say that Greeks aren’t cool,” he told Neos Kosmos. “Greek Australians have a different kind of cool now, we’ve moved on from the comedy that came in the 80’s and 90’s. When I started doing Greek Australian theatre there were a lot of stories dealing with our parents and multiculturalism but now that isn’t relevant. This new film by Alex Lykos makes comments about today’s society – trying to fit into the expectations that are placed on you; we aren’t dwelling on Greekness anymore.”