Neighbours has been on Australian television screens since 1985, telling the story of Ramsay Street, its residents and their (rather dramatic) suburban lives.
The long-running soap has served as a springboard for now internationally acclaimed performers such as Kylie Minogue, Margot Robbie and Russell Crowe while proving to be popular with overseas audiences — especially in the UK.
While Neighbours appears, on the surface, to have evolved to be representative of the inclusive and multi-cultural society Australia would like you to believe it possesses, ongoing claims of racism behind the scenes paint a very different picture.
On Monday April 5, actress Shareena Clanton shared a lengthy post on Instagram sharing details of the racial discrimination she endured whilst working on the show.
Clanton, who played a character named Sheila on the show, revealed that she was undertaking counselling as a result of the trauma she suffered from her time on the Neighbours set.
“It’s been lonely, triggering and traumatising to work in such a culturally unsafe space,” the actress wrote.
While Clanton, who is of Wangatha, Yamatji, Noongar and Gidja descent, avoided using specific names for legal reasons, she reported that “Overt and covert levels of racism were rife, often disguised as ‘jokes’ like a white actress openly calling another actress of colour a ‘lil’ monkey’.”
The actress also revealed that she had twice been subjected to “the ‘N’-word openly being used on-set and in the green room” and that she was “told to ‘go somewhere else’ by staff when confronting the actor directly” because she was making others uncomfortable and that it was argued the offensive word is commonly used in pop culture.
Clanton told The Guardian that the actor was later temporarily removed from the set and ordered to attend sensitivity training, after using the racial slur in another incident.
Furthermore, Clanton recalled that “A white actress openly laughed at the racist ‘N’ word to only lie about laughing about it when questioned by Human Resources. She said that I ‘misconstrued’ what she was ‘laughing at’ and that she was laughing at ‘something else.'”
Additionally, she said that she often felt ostracised and further marginalised after calling out the problematic behaviours, with Human Resources apparently telling the actress that they were “unsure of what else they could do”.
In response to Clanton’s allegations, Fremantle Media said it would do more to promote inclusion, telling the BBC, “Neighbours strives to be a platform for diversity and inclusion on-screen and off-screen. Our quest is always to continue to grow and develop in this area and we acknowledge that this is an evolving process.”
Disappointingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, since coming forward with her experiences on the show, Clanton has been subjected to vicious online bullying from people who either doubt her story or find it amusing.
Taking to Instagram once more, Clanton provided screenshots of some of the messages and comments she had received, calling them “disgusting.”
“I have been referenced as King Kong, told I am a ‘problem’ and making myself a ‘victim’ whilst having non-POC talk to me how I ‘should’ address these issues of racism and ongoing breaches of human rights (despite already speaking ‘calmly’ and ‘politely’ to the offenders and educating those who continue to be complicit and indifferent),” Clanton wrote.
“I am now labelled as nothing but a ‘troublemaker.'”
She continued, “Shame on anyone who condones this kind of racial hatred, harassment, vile discrimination, dismissal of my truths and experiences with ongoing denial of racism at play on Neighbours.”
In a separate post, the actress also pointed out that “Calling out racism exposes MORE racism and racist trauma in Australia.”
Actor, artist and activist Meyne Wyatt also shared his experience with racism on the Neighbours set, taking to Twitter the day after Clanton’s initial Instagram post to confirm the set is rife with racism.
“I was a series regular on Neighbours between 2014 to 2016 and I experienced Racism on set,” Wyatt wrote.
“It involved the C-word and I called it out and it didn’t happen around me again. Though I did walk in on this incident? so I have no doubt things were being said behind my back.”
I was a series regular on Neighbours between 2014 to 2016 and I experienced Racism on set. It involved the C word and I called it out and it didn’t happen around me again. Though I did walk in on this incident? so I have no doubt things were being said behind my back.
— Meyne Wyatt (@meynewyatt) April 6, 2021
Wyatt, who made headlines in 2020 with his incredible Bla(c)k Lives Matter monologue on ABCs Q&A, was the first-ever Indigenous actor to be added to the main cast of the series, in the role of Nate Kinski in 2015.
“I don’t see a lot of Indigenous actors on the show or on any prime time Television series, whether it be Neighbours, Home and Away, anything on Channel 7, 9 or Ten for that matter,” the actor wrote. “Stan and Netflix take note! But these attitudes are prevalent throughout the industry.”
He continued, “And we are f—ken tired of calling this sh—t out. Individuals, actors, cast and crews! To the Production companies, to the networks! Do better, be better. You can always do better. The work is not finished. Even when you think you have, just know you haven’t. Because you haven’t.”
In perhaps his most heartbreaking, and accurate Tweet, Wyatt also explained that while he was disappointed to hear that racist behaviour was still being perpetrated on the set of the long-running soap, it was hardly surprising.
“What can you say, we are in Australia,” he wrote.
I have too much experience to believe otherwise. And it is disappointing but not at all surprising to hear that five years later racism continues to be present in that workplace. But what can you say, we are in Australia.
— Meyne Wyatt (@meynewyatt) April 6, 2021
On April 10, Wyatt used his voice once more to address crowds in Sydney who were protesting to demand justice for Aboriginal people who have died in custody.
“You sick of hearing about racism? I’m sick of f—king talking about it,” he told the masses.
English actress Nicola Charles, who played Sarah Beaumont on Neighbours in the 1990s and 2010s has revealed in her memoir Soap Star that she faced discrimination on the show for “taking a job from an Australian”.
In her tome, Charles recalls finding a letter sent that had been sent to the immigration department shortly after her six-month probation period on Neighbours ended in 1996, just as her contract was about to be extended.
“My immigration lawyer told me the letter complained that a British actor had been given a full-time role on the show, thus taking a job away from an Australian,” she wrote.
The actress also recalls being taunted by her female castmates who seemed to resent her for being a “model-turned-actress” or “MTA”.
“I was what the other actors, the young female actors, described as an ‘MTA’”, Charles told news.com.au. “They would say under their breath, ‘fu**ing MTA’ behind my back and as I walked past after scenes.
“That’s when I started thinking, ‘OK, they don’t see me a real actor even though I did go to drama school in the UK.’”
Charles also described the lengths her castmates went to in order to get her fired from the soap, explaining that she was once “pushed through the door of the pub prematurely before my cue while the cameras were rolling which of course made everyone roll their eyes like, ‘she’s an idiot and she doesn’t know what she’s doing.’”
Unfortunately for Charles, things went from bad to worse with two of her (unnamed) fellow actors complaining to the Immigration authorities about a British actress being given full-time employment on an Australian series.
“For me, Neighbours started to feel a bit like high school, a bit like Mean Girls,” Charles said. “When I was making the decision to leave (in 1999) … mostly because I’d just done a movie and I thought it was best to pursue a movie career, I did think, ‘well at least I don’t have to face the b—tches anymore!’”
These ongoing claims of racism, discrimination and nativism should serve as a reminder that the Australia that is marketed to the world — a happy melting pot of culture where everyone is welcome — and the Australia that actually exists is vastly at odds.
Until our country can reckon with its racist past, and make real inroads toward an inclusive future, any attempt at portraying a tolerant and equal society on television is quite simply false advertising.
As Claton wrote in one of her Instagram posts, “There are many horror stories from other First Nations people and under-represented communities about what they experience on set and in the story rooms.