Michelle Law: Having a voice is political
Brisbane-based writer, screenwriter, and author, Michelle Law isn’t one to shy away from taboo topics. Her work deals candidly with her lived experiences— from dealing with racism to growing up with a chronic illness (check out her brill TEDX talk on having alopecia here). With her recent play Single Asian Female getting rave reviews, and a new web-series in the works, we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing a lot more.
By Mia Abrahams
Congratulations on your new web-series Homecoming Queens ! Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
It’s going to be a seven-part web-series, that’s semi-autobiographical, based on myself and my friend, Chloë Reeson’s life.
It started because we would go to parties and social events with our friends, and feel disconnected from other young people our age, and feel kind of stuck in between this state of being young and old at the same time, that happens when you’re a person dealing with a chronic illness.
So we’d leave parties early, and sit in Chloë’s car, and joke about how “one day it would be good to see a show about people like us on TV”, and several years later here we are!
How important is visibility around the lives of women with chronic illness?
Generally, it’s important because there is a deep sense of isolation and disconnection from other people your age.
Specifically, for women, having that sense of close female relationships… because [chronic illness] does tend to make you feel as if you just can’t connect. It sort of separates you from any sense of what a normal life narrative should be.
Your play Single Asian Female was called by one reviewer “a gift to young women of colour, an extraordinary opportunity for them to see their faces reflected on stage”. How important was representation for you as a young Asian-Australian woman?
It’s extremely important. It’s one of the reasons I started writing for screen and stage. Growing up, I didn’t have those representations. I lived in a predominantly white region. You already feel quite marginalised in your own community, and to be consuming media —whether it’s performances, or film or TV, or anything where people are visible— it reinforces the idea that your voice and your story don’t matter, and they aren’t normal. When in reality, that’s not true. 1 in 10 Australians has an Asian background.
What do you hope to see change in 10, 20 or 30 years in terms of cultural representation as Australia becomes more and more diverse?
Things have changed in the sense that characters aren’t as stereotypical. I think that comes down to the fact that productions are getting writers of different cultural backgrounds in the writing room. But I think there’s a long way to go. There’s often writers’ rooms where I’ll be the only writer of colour. But I think in the next 20, 30 years I’d like to see the same amount of representation as there is now in other countries. I remember Roxane Gay coming to Australia and tweeting her surprise about how white our TV shows are:
I loved your quote in Junkee where you said: “To be a young, Asian woman living in Australia is inherently political” — how has this shaped the work you create, consciously or unconsciously?
I think it unconsciously happens. My work is inherently political. I’m expressing views that some Australians might find confronting, but it’s part of my daily lived experiences and the experience of other marginalised people I know. But having a voice is political, whether one would want it to be or not.
Your work on the page, screen, and stage draws a lot on your own potentially difficult personal experiences. How do you leave space for and protect yourself?
I think it’s important to remind yourself when you’re writing about personal things that at the end of the day you’re writing a character, and parts of that character are going to be fictionalised, and part of that experience is going to be universal to many people who have gone through similar things. So you can have a sense of detachment.
What advice do you wish you could give your 16-year-old self?
Something I like to tell kids is that as you grow into an adult you should be the type of person that you needed when you are growing up.
Also, when you are being really hard on yourself, speak to yourself as if you would a younger sibling. You’d be proud and supportive of them and not be so critical.
What excites you at the moment?
I’m really excited about an Asian-Australian artist Yeo — he’s been around for a while but has released a new album on Bandcamp I’m loving. I’m really hanging out to read this new book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (by Reni Eddo-Lodge). I still need to catch up on Search Party, and Handmaid’s Tale, because I’ve been to scared to watch it. I don’t want to watch it alone. I’m hanging out for a viewing buddy.
Why is comedy such a good way to break down barriers around difficult topics?
Comedy is quite effective in getting people to listen, if you make someone laugh they are more likely to listen — much more than if you just rant, or get up on a soapbox. Comedy naturally comes to me as a way of dealing with difficult situations. You know, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.
Catch Homecoming Queens on SBS OnDemand in 2018. Follow Michelle on Twitter.
Photography: Tammy Law; Digital design: Grace Jennings-Edquist