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Humans star Gemma Chan questions poor ethnic diversity in film and television


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Channel 4’s Humans, it is safe to say, has been a remarkable addition to the broadcaster’s collection of achievements. From the offset this sci-fi drama was a hit with viewers, accumulating 6.1 million viewers with its first episode and thus becoming Channel 4’s ‘highest rated originated drama in 20 years’.

Over the past few weeks, the chilling drama has been racking up enough viewers for the broadcaster (in conjunction with AMC, producers of The Walking Dead) to commission the show for a second series both on British and American soil.  

It is no surprise that the show performed so well, either. Instead of situating itself in a far-off galaxy or a seemingly unattainable future millennia, Humans planted its sci-fi narrative firmly in the here-and-now, whilst mirroring our contemporary fears of humanity’s dwindling competence in the face of technological advancements. Presenting an increasingly achievable reality where mankind lives alongside a rapidly developing population of domesticated robots (known as ‘synths’), Humans explored the darker traits of human behaviour in contrast to the seemingly void, blank canvasses of humanity’s metal-and-wire counterparts.

Blending themes of sexuality, gender, ageing and a whole plethora of other themes, the show lived up to its title by exploring what it means to be human, with some of the synths appearing to be more than what meets the fearful human eye.

Playing the unusual synth Anita, Gemma Chan was presented to audiences as a seemingly squeaky-clean robotic citizen in this not-so-distant dystopia. However, despite the chilling events of the drama, Chan spoke to The Telegraph in a recent interview about how there were other alarming facts in our own day-to-day reality. Calling out the issue of limited racial diversity, Chan told The Telegraph that we are ‘more likely to see an alien in a Hollywood film than an Asian woman.’

Chan has a problem with the lack of non-white representation occurring in television and film – a problem which made pursuing her passion for acting seem like a less realistic career choice. Whilst discussing her initial endeavours into the acting industry, Chan stated that ‘growing up, I never saw any Asian faces on TV, so it [acting] didn’t feel like a viable option’. The problem for Chan, unfortunately, did not rest there as the actress recalled how she was turned down from some auditions due to producers rejecting non-white applicants in favour of exclusively auditioning white actors and actresses.

So maybe it is not just the speed of technological advancements that we are failing to admit to ourselves, as Chan highlights a lingering key issue of ethnic diversity in contemporary visual media. Despite her own success with her career, the Humans’ star is still concerned by limited on-screen diversity which not only involves ethnicity but also drifts into the issue of gender representation as well.

Speaking about Humans itself, Chan discussed with The Telegraph how the sci-fi drama ‘should be congratulated for the way it has tried to promote female representation and diversity’, despite also acknowledging how the vast majority of the show’s non-white actors were cast into playing the roles of the daunting synthetic citizens.

As Chan has illuminated with her views, there are worrying issues directly under our noses as well as in the looming future.

Channel 4’s Humans concluded its first series on August 2nd 2015. The sci-fi drama is available for catch-up viewing on 4OD.

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