2021: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? – The Wins and Triumphs

2021 was undeniably a tough year for many, and the Asian community was no exception.  But along with those struggles, we also experienced an abundance of achievements and had a lot to celebrate as a community. 2021 was a year where Asians around the world thrived and representation reached new heights.

As an Asian woman born and raised in the West, representation of Asians in Western media helps validate the experiences of myself and of my community. It is a crucial catalyst in showing that we do have a place in this society in the face of the constant discrimination and microaggressions we endure. Representation in our media is not only about creating our own spaces, but also occupying existing spaces to break down those already established social norms. Media has the power to shape our perceptions of our society, and therefore influence our attitudes. The impact that the media has on our nation should not be underestimated. 

Maria Thattil represents Australia at Miss Universe

The world-renowned pageant has existed for 69 years, and for the majority of those years only white women represented our country.  Women of colour never represented Australia until 2018, when Francesca Hung became the first Asian-Australian to compete for Miss Universe Australia. Since this boundary has been broken, our nation has been represented by incredible Asian-Australian women:  Priya Serrao in 2019 and Maria Thattil in 2021. 

Maria is a writer, speaker and creator who aims to create a more diverse and inclusive mediascape for all. She placed in the top 10 of the competition and showcased Australia’s diversity to the global stage. She has used her platform as Miss Universe to actively dismantle systemic racism and sexism on her social media and through her projects

This win and this representation breaks down the traditional Eurocentric beauty standards that we have been inundated with for years by Australian media. Seeing a brown woman represent Australia shows young South Asians and women of colour that they can do anything they set their mind to, and that their passions are not only worthy, but limitless. 

Asian Australians on Masterchef Australia

One thing about Asian Australians is that we have incredible and incomparable cuisine. This year was monumental in showcasing Asian cookery on a national scale, with half of the Masterchef Australia 2021 cast having Asian heritage. Through each Asian contestant we were introduced to the uniqueness of each person’s culture. They all had immigrant backgrounds and shared their universally relatable hardships throughout the competition, creating a bond with judge Melissa Leong as well with Asian-Australian viewers. This is a huge step in being proud of our culture and our experiences. We also got to see Asian LGBTQ+ representation with contestants Dan, Eric, and Trent, which is a huge step for inclusivity on our screens. 

In the celebrity instalment of the program, Aussie pop icon Dami Im and critically acclaimed comedian Dilruk Jayasinha also competed. Dami showed pride for her Korean heritage through her cooking, and her loveable personality added to the show’s atmosphere. Dilruk incorporated Sri Lankan elements in his food and brought his unique sense of humour to the table. Both stars shared their personal stories and honoured their Asian roots in a way we’d never seen before. Dilruk notably finished the competition in fourth place.

Asian Australian hosts on television

It was a great year for seeing more Asians lead the screen. The popular SBS show Letters and Numbers came back to our screens after being off the air for 9 years, where the original host was succeeded by Chinese-Australian comedian Michael Hing. Another SBS program, Insight, saw a revival with another new host, renowned Japanese-Australian journalist Kumi Taguchi. The show also saw the inclusion of renowned Asian Australian journalists, Alice Matthews and Marc Fennell.  Both shows have historically been dominated by white stories and voices, and so this natural integration of Asian Australians into the Australian media landscape is a huge step in creating a truly inclusive and diverse mediascape.

New Gold Mountain on SBS

Far too often when reflecting on Asian historical events, we only see the Western perspective. The SBS drama series ‘New Gold Mountain’ aims to change this, focusing on the Chinese experience during the Gold Rush in the 1850s. When the Chinese came to Australia, they named the goldfields ‘New Gold Mountain’, signifying their hope for a better life filled with wealth and prosperity. Chinese Australian history is rich and significant, but it is often erased in replacement of white stories. The debut of ‘New Gold Mountain’ therefore, has been a monumental achievement for Asian Australians, especially as the show is produced by, and stars, Asians and aims to shine a light on Chinese-Australian stories – which is unprecedented for a mainstream platform.

Squid Game doll in Sydney

Now, it wouldn’t be an article about the triumphs of Asians during 2021 without talking about one of the biggest shows of the year – Squid Game. The Korean thriller-drama saw immense global success in 2021, becoming the most viewed Netflix show of all time. This was a huge feat for an entirely Asian produced show and cast, breaking barriers for Asian media everywhere. People were trying dalgona cookies, and the Halloween costumes were as inescapable as the ‘Red Light, Green Light’ tune. And in Sydney, a life sized replica of the doll graced the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and attracted many visitors to the landmark in its limited time. Squid Game’s popularity has even made people want to learn Korean and become more immersed in Korean culture. In fact, Korean became one of the top 5 languages in Duolingo in 2021. 

Ultimately, whilst 2021 did see its share of challenges for Asian Australians, there is no doubt that the community experienced and shared a wide range of wins and triumphs that consolidated the strength and importance of Asian stories, and the Asian-Australian experience. 

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