Culture

‘Pretty For An Aboriginal’ Is Australia’s Most Charming And Radical New Podcast

We asked Miranda Tapsell all about it.

Miranda Tapsell

Miranda Tapsell is a delightful person to spend 45 minutes on the phone with. When she joins me to talk about Pretty For An Aboriginal, her brand-new BuzzFeed podcast with friend and colleague Nakkiah Lui, I ask her how the day is. “Oh good. It’s been good. In those in-between times,” she tells me. “Just hustlin’ in the meantime!” I have to laugh, because Tapsell is so bright and casual she radiates warmth right through the phone.

This is exactly what it’s like listening to Pretty For An Aboriginal. The first episode (which also features Aussie rapper/writer/legend Briggs) has already bumped the podcast up to number 10 on the iTunes rankings list — and for good reason. Together, Tapsell and Lui are a charming, sharp and radical presence.

Pretty For An Aboriginal is totally unlike anything that’s been unleashed on the Australian media so far. A space where two black women can talk to each other and share their experience with the public is fairly unprecedented in our media landscape. Though it’s casual, fun and a little silly, Pretty For An Aboriginal also feels inextricably momentous.

“Talking Hot” With Mates

Both Tapsell and Lui are increasingly ubiquitous on Australian TV these days. Lui is a writer and performer on ABC’s Black Comedy, and has two TV shows in the works. Tapsell is a Logie-winning star of Channel 9’s Love Child, as well as one of the brilliant leads in The Sapphires. Lui is also a wunderkind playwright; her work has been performed at mainstages across the country.

“Believe it or not it was because I saw her fabulous play, This Heaven, at Belvoir Sydney,” Tapsell explains when I ask how she and Lui met. “And it was the first play that I’d even seen where it wasn’t a retrospective play on the Aboriginal experience. Like, I love all the Aboriginal plays that have been made up until then, but Nakkiah really spoke so honestly and truthfully about her experience as an Aboriginal woman through her work, that I was just so in awe of her.

“We met afterwards, and then she just completely changed. I felt like I started to find out that she’s a nerd like me, and there was this moment where she said, ‘This is my second glass of wine. I probably shouldn’t have another one, because I’m worried that people might think that I’ve had too much.’ And I said, ‘Isn’t it weird that we’re really conscious of that in this foyer space?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, I wonder if non-Indigenous people think that?’.”

“Anyway, long story short, we bonded over the idea of going, oh wow, yeah, we do talk about our background as Aboriginal women a lot, because it’s on our mind consciously about the way that we’re viewed, and the way that we’re thought of. And we thought, we might as well put all of this talk that we have over wine, over food… why don’t we make it into a podcast?”

Introducing Nakkiah and Miranda by Pretty For An Aboriginal

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The podcast runs more like a chat between friends than a formal interview, and the format works beautifully, particularly with their first guest.

Briggs is our friend,” Miranda says. “and we just never know where he’s gonna be, ’cause he’s always travelling around the country. So it just worked out really well that we got all the people that we love on to the show to talk to us. It was a really… it was just pure luck, I think.”

At this point the podcast’s producer, Nicola Harvey, jumps in: “It’s really also worth noting everyone said yes because of Nakkiah’s and Miranda’s reputations for being such genuine and honest participants in the advocacy space for the Indigenous community. There was no wrangling, there was no haggling. Without exception people moved mountains to get to speak to these two on microphone.”

The podcast has actually already landed a few international superstars too. The podcast’s second guest is Orange Is The New Black‘s Yael Stone, and later in the season Lui and Tapsell chat to mega-celeb author Roxane Gay about their shared experience as black women.

“We just want to speak about the things that we’re very passionate about, and have people there to understand us and support us.”

Oh, we were just so grateful that Roxane Gay managed to be in the country at the time for Sydney Writer’s Festival,” Tapsell gushes when I ask her about her favourite guests. “She is just as beautiful and just as incredible as she is in her books, and on podcasts. I just… I was so in awe of her.”

It’s funny how often Tapsell mentions being in awe of the people around her, because she’s a fairly impressive individual herself. She tackles every question I ask with the deepest consideration, and fires back light, strong and funny answers. But, true to her generosity, she’s resolute in her praise for co-host Lui too. 

“I feel braver because of Nakkiah, you know,” she tells me. “Nakkiah constantly makes me brave, because these things still overwhelm me. I love Nakkiah’s fearlessness. I love that she’s not scared to back down from something, especially when she believes in it, and it’s encouraged me to do the same. So that’s why I just jumped at the chance to do this with her, because she’s allowed for that.” 

I say that the podcast sounds like a pretty happy, positive experience, and Taspell exclaims, “That’s what we wanted the podcast to be! We just felt like we were in a safe space. That this was the best way to talk about race and sexism and homophobia and those things, because we find a lot that when we do speak on it, it can be seen as an antagonistic or a confrontational thing. And that’s never how Nakkiah and I have sorted things out, particularly as friends.

“There’s this saying on the Tiwi Islands, where my grandmother’s family is from, and it’s called ‘talking hot’, and it’s just a way of speaking extremely passionate, and very to the point. That’s what me and Nakkiah both want to bring to the show, that we just want to speak about the things that we’re very passionate about, and have people there to understand us and support us, and also us having learned from them.”

The podcast tackles a range of serious issues but, perhaps because of Tapsell and Lui’s cheeky personas, there’s a also great deal of lightness and humour. “We are being silly as well,” Tapsell says. “We are using humour, we crack a lot of jokes in the show. I don’t know if they fly or not, but that’s the way we wanted to do it. We just wanted to have that freedom, and we’re so grateful that we’re given that.”

The Fear Of Speaking Out

I ask Tapsell what it’s like to be an outspoken black woman in Australia, especially in her industry — a question it takes her a long time to answer. “It scares me a bit, that question,” she admits. “I’m very grateful of the opportunities I’ve been given, and so I never want to bite the hand that feeds me.

I’ve got to where I am because people have given me a shot, you know? I’ve been green, I still have lots of things to learn, but someone went, you know what, she’s got something. At the same time, it’s something my mum made me conscious from the beginning. I feel like I wouldn’t get away with behaving in a certain way because of being Aboriginal, and because of being a woman.”

We move on, but moments into the next question, Tapsell asks to go back to the discussion about being black in the entertainment industry. “I was just thinking about Adam Goodes and, like, Liz Cambage. I just see them — even though they work in a different industry — they have a platform, and I’ve seen the price that they pay. I haven’t nearly experienced the level of vitriol that they’ve received when they’ve spoken out, but seeing them makes me fearful to speak out, if that makes sense.

I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, so I don’t want to have that taken away from me, and I get scared when I see… it becomes real for me when I see people like Adam and Liz, who speak up about racism and get treated really badly for it. That’s why I’m so grateful to be given this space in the podcast, because I can speak about things safely, and speak about things that I feel as an Indigenous woman in the world, and just trying to understand that through other people.” 

At the end of each episode, Lui and Tapsell ask their guest: “At what age did you first realise that race mattered?” I ask Tapsell if she’ll share her own answer to that question.

I just remember being in kindergarten, and I remember seeing a monkey on Babar, the TV show. I looked at my own hands, and I could see that the palms of my hands were white, but I had brown hands. And I remember saying to my friend, ‘Oh, look, look how different the colours of my hands are, on either side of my hands. Look how different it is. I’m like a monkey.’ I was making monkey sounds, and making my friend laugh.

“And I must have said that to my mum ’cause I was really proud of making my friend laugh. And my mum was just like, ‘Don’t ever call yourself a monkey’. I didn’t understand why, and then my mum said, ‘No, that’s to make, you know… that’s not a very nice thing to say’. And she broke it down for me, how it’s been racialised, and I went, ‘Oh wow. So that’s what they… it’s what people said to be mean to Aboriginal people?’ And mum said, ‘Yeah’.

“I think that’s when I realised that the world was very different for my mum, and it was going to be very different for me.”

New episodes of Pretty For An Aboriginal drop every Friday.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith.