Suzy Wrong of Hungry Ghosts on why we need more powerhouse roles for trans women on Australian television
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;
Story

Suzy Wrong of Hungry Ghosts on why we need more powerhouse roles for trans women on Australian television

Stories/775 , Issues/Arts & Culture
Melbourne VIC
24th Aug 2020
Suzy Wrong of Hungry Ghosts on why we need more powerhouse roles for trans women on Australian television
This trans actor is ready for a new dawn where LGBTI+ and Asian-Australian stories are no longer rarities on screen.

Hungry Ghosts follows four families who find themselves haunted by the ghosts of their past. The SBS miniseries is set in Melbourne during the Hungry Ghost festival when Vietnamese Australians pay their respects to the dead. With one of the most diverse casts ever to grace an Australian drama, including 30 Asian-Australian actors and 325 Asian-Australian extras, the series portrays the lived and spiritual stories of the Vietnamese community with a focus on intergenerational trauma and displacement.

47-year-old trans actor Suzy Wrong has been forced to contend with the fact that there are very few transgender characters on Australian screens. After losing hope of being cast in film and television roles, she secured the role of Roxy Ling on Hungry Ghosts. We talked to Suzy about the significance of playing Roxy, whose character arc revolves around her talent, not her sexual identity.

What inspired you to try to break into the acting industry?

For an entire century, trans people have existed on screen as an abomination, the butt of jokes for straight people to laugh at, and for queer people to be ashamed about. There have been rare occasions where well-meaning filmmakers put us on screen, offering a reprieve from ridicule, as symbols of tragedy, using the most horrific of our lives to plead for understanding, whilst providing entertainment to the masses.

It is now time to think about portrayals of ourselves for our own eyes, and for our own well-being. There are stories to be told, quite urgently, by people of minority cultures. With the advent of international streaming services, I’ve observed a huge increase in interest in film and television programs that feature people of colour, as well as people of the LGBTQI+ experience. I feel very compelled to be a part of this new dawn.

Do you feel you’ve faced systemic discrimination in the industry because of your gender identity?

I know that there have been virtually no opportunities for trans-Asian women in acting, that are dignified and well-paid until maybe these last couple of years. There has been a historic refusal to include us on screen, in a way that isn’t demeaning. When it comes to cisgender roles, we too have been routinely excluded.

How was it different working on Hungry Ghosts to other productions/projects you’ve worked on?

When I first read the part of Roxy, I found it to be quite astonishing. I was completely taken aback that there was no hint of exploitation in this ground-breaking portrayal of a trans woman on Australian television. I had become so used to seeing women like myself being traumatised or ridiculed, and to see Roxy presented as a fulfilled and self-possessed individual was a dream come true. And, to be able to work with so many Asian-Australian actors, was just incredible fun.

How did it feel to be cast as a trans character whose character journey doesn’t focus on gender identity in Hungry Ghosts?

I think there’s huge value in showing how trans people can function so well within their communities. Roxy has a full life, with great friends. She is accepted and loved, and I think that that is important for everyone to understand that. For LGBTQI+ audiences to see ourselves in a healthy light, away from stories of pain and struggle, is absolutely necessary. I think it’s harmful to only have representations of minorities that are about suffering, and for too long trans people have had to endure reflections that are persistently tragic. Hopefully, many more shows will take their cue from Hungry Ghosts, and allow trans folk to continue being strong, smart, and funny.

How do you think the industry can become more inclusive of acting professionals from diverse gender identities and move away from the whitewashing of mainstream television?

It needs to be much more than just the faces you see on the screen. People from minority cultures must be hired for all kinds of positions in the arts, and also in other parts of the economy. There needs to be a redistribution of power everywhere. Having diverse decision-makers and gate-keepers will mean a more equitable society. As long as people on top remain pale, male and stale, nothing’s going to change.

Hungry Ghosts premiers tonight, Monday 24 August, to Thursday 27 August at 9:30pm on SBS and SBS on Demand.

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