Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022


OzAsia Festival

The Hon. T.T. NGO (15:48): The OzAsia Festival was founded in 2007 by the Adelaide Festival Centre's CEO, Douglas Gautier. It is a rich annual cultural experience showcasing both traditional and contemporary cultures of Asia over three weeks. What makes the OzAsia Festival unique is that it is the only major national event devoted exclusively to exploring links between Australia and the diverse cultures of our Asian neighbours. This year's festival was held from 20 October to 6 November. Adelaide came alive with arts, theatre, dance, music, film, visual arts, food and cultural design from many parts of Asia.

I would like to speak about the work of one particular performer, Ms Maria Tran, who I had the pleasure to meet while attending her production of Action Star. Maria is an Australian-Vietnamese actress based in Las Vegas, USA. She is an award-winning film director, actor, martial artist, activist and cultural pioneer working across film, performance and action drama.

Maria grew up in Brisbane and then moved to Sydney with her parents. The story of Maria's parents is one I connected with, because they too fled Vietnam by boat following the end of the war in 1975. She told me how the racism and bullying she experienced throughout her high school years was a motivating force to studying martial arts. She spoke about working with actor and martial artist Jackie Chan, who was an inspiration for her and has always been one of her favourite action stars.

Maria's production, Action Star, has been described by critics as a show filled with world-class stunts, weapon wielding and explosive choreography. The show provides a snapshot of Maria's life growing up in Australia, with her mesmerising fighting skills mixed with personal storytelling, comedy, dance, choreographed martial arts and live filmmaking.

The show tells a poignant story. It portrays gender stereotypes, identity issues and racism. The show also depicts sexual harassment that female artists often face in the screen industry, as has been reported by media around the world in recent times. Maria's journey as an Asian Australian involved facing many prejudices as she attempted to break into the film industry.

The Australian screen industry was, and still is, heavily dominated by casting white Anglo-Saxons for roles. Maria told me how her Australian auditions only led to roles for unnamed characters such as sex workers, getting blown up in Vietnam war scenes or playing Asian female character roles.

Watching Maria's performance stirred personal memories I have about growing up in Australia during the eighties and nineties. During those decades, many young Asian children faced bullying and racism at school and on the streets to a much greater extent than occurs today. It actually brought tears to my eyes as some of those bad memories came back.

To conclude, I would thank our first Asian Australian to lead an OzAsia Festival, Ms Annette Shun Wah, the 2022 artistic director. For more than a decade, Annette's work has been highly influential in forging personal pathways through various programs for Asian Australian artists. These programs identify and develop emerging talent in collaboration with major theatre companies to bring contemporary Asian Australian stories to festival stages around Australia.

I thank each and every one of the OzAsia performers, the event managers, production teams and the audiences who attended a highly successful 2022 festival.