“Speak Out. Make Noise”: Former MTV Host Kristian Schmidt On Inclusivity On Australian TV

"You have to be twice as good as them to get half as far."

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Former MTV Australia VJ Kristian ‘Krit’ Schmidt recently moved to Los Angeles, after several years experiencing the highs and lows of the Australian entertainment industry. 

With his Samoan background, he knows better than most the ways in which the industry can improve in regards to representation of minorities. Here, he shares some of his experiences — and makes the case for more #woke Australian TV.

“You Can’t Be What You Can’t See”

When I was presenting for MTV, it sent the message to brown faces all over the country that we belonged in this space. We’re one of the fastest growing populations in the country along with indigenous Australians. My message to the industry is this: Don’t neglect our demographic. Stop being so safe and get ahead of the curve — we are the future.

Since my recent decision to speak out about my experiences as a person of Pacific descent in Australian television, I’ve been even more encouraged to help create positive change. I received so many responses that ranged from people being shocked and ashamed to others feeling a sense of empowerment.

Then there were the messages that were just flat out heartbreaking. The one thing that they all had in common was that they recognised this is a big problem. It’s important to note that it’s not exclusive to the entertainment scene either.

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What’s The Issue?

In a word, ignorance. Overwhelming ignorance. It’s usually wilful at that. It comes in the shape of entitlement. A resistance to anything non-white or anything that isn’t consistent with their preconceived ideas of the Pacific.

This looks like:

Having white people in a boardroom tell me I’m not qualified to comment on white privilege. The irony here was that we were meeting to discuss ways to promote a documentary about white privilege (Whitesplaining at its finest.)

Staff continuing to touch my hair even after expressing on multiple occasions that it’s an invasion of my personal space.

Commentators butchering the names of Pacific NRL players even though we make up 42 percent of the game. (I pitched a fun video of some of the boys breaking down correct pronunciation to different clubs and networks but no one wanted to get involved.).

Securing a role in a movie, only to read the character’s description as “Has afro. Low IQ.”

Inciting shock whenever people discover I graduated from law school and went on to receive a Fulbright scholarship in the US. To add insult to injury, any mention of my education and my passion for young people would get disregarded from interviews because it didn’t fit the one-dimensional narrative I was boxed in. Nobody cares about any of my academic achievements. They just care about how I’m related to The Rock.

I could go on and on but you get the point. Two-and-a-half years of this took its toll on me. The excessive ignorance, isolation and prejudice were tough.

What Can Be Done?

My first piece of advice for anyone of colour trying to make it in this game is that you have to be twice as good as them to get half as far. It’s completely unfair, I know, but that’s just the way it is. However, this is what makes our achievements that much more meaningful.

Find a mentor. Reach out to someone who’s where you want to be. They don’t necessarily have to be Pacific but it helps if they understand the dynamics of the lack of representation or at least have a willingness to. This where I’m calling out for my peers to step up and help foster upcoming talent. It’s time we start a professional association where we can strategise and really support one another.

The excessive ignorance, isolation and prejudice were tough.

Speak out. Make noise. This goes for everyone. We need to stop staying silent on these matters. I know it’s easier said than done but we have got to demand change if we’re ever to see a shift. For my white peers who are embarrassed about what I went through, do something about it. It’s nice that you’re sorry but does nothing for progression. If you really care, start the conversation within your circles then be proactive in engaging with people who don’t look like you and when you do talk to us, listen. Look for ways that you can use your privilege to help others.

Storytelling in a social and political sense is power and influence. Whose stories are being told? When we watch networks and what you air, you’re essentially validating specific voices. That’s why it’s so important to be inclusive of all the different voices within Australia. What you do has such significance in shaping minds of what’s possible.

New Zealand-born Kristian ‘Krit’ Schmidt broke into the scene as a VJ for MTV Australia after coming out on top in a nationwide search. He has a Master’s degree in Education, a conjoint degree in Law and Arts, and is a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright scholarship. He tweets @talkingkrit.