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Neighbours’ Sharon Johal speaks out about racism on set

"Little things would happen, there wold be tokenism within the scripts."
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Actor Sharon Johal is continuing to speak out about racism, after famously drawing attention to systemic racism problems on the set of Neighbours, where she starred as Dipi Rebecchi.

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Chatting to host Erin Holland on the Tia Maria Two of a Kind podcast, which just launched this week, Sharon opened up about experiencing racism on the Neighbours set, and her struggle with being the first Punjabi Sikh actor in a permanent role on mainstream Australian TV.

“We had Kamahl, who was a media personality, but he was a singer and on Australian television,” Sharon reflected.

“We only had two channels in South Australia and [on those channels] it was Neighbours and A Country Practice, those sorts of shows, and there was literally no one who looked like me.”

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A snap of Sharon recording the Tia Maria Two of a Kind podcast. (Credit: Instagram)

When it came to the set, Sharon seemed to experience her fair share of micro-aggressions when it came to her race.

“Little things would happen, there wold be tokenism within the scripts and I’m not a confrontational person, but I’ll do it if I need to,” Sharon admitted.

“I tried to sort things out as they would happen in the best way possible.”

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“Little things would happen, there wold be tokenism within the scripts.” (Credit: Getty)

However, her role as a representative is not one she took lightly.

“It was all this weight on my shoulders to represent the community accurately and properly because I was the first one and they made be this flag-bearer, even though I didn’t want that role,” she shared.

Sharon first shared her experiences with racism on set in April this year, writing a lengthy statement that she then posted to her website.

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“It was all this weight on my shoulders to represent the community accurately…” (Credit: Instagram)

“Like my colleagues who have spoken out over the past week, I too have experienced direct, indirect and casual racism in this workplace,” she wrote of the Neighbours set when former colleagues of Sharon’s began to speak out about their alleged negative experiences on set.

“On more than one occasion, a current cast member (non-POC) directly referred to me as “you people” when speaking in derogatory terms about an altercation they were involved in with an Indian person,” Sharon alleged.

“The same person repeatedly referred to me as “the black one” and/or “blackie” behind my back in the presence of other crew members.”

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“My view is that a systematic overhaul is required in order to make this workplace safe for all people of diverse backgrounds.” (Credit: Instagram)

She also referred to instances where she had allegedly been trolled online by fans of the show, and reportedly had not been supported through the moderation of comments.

“My view is that a systematic overhaul is required in order to make this workplace safe for all people of diverse backgrounds,” she wrote.

“It’s both heartbreaking and telling of our industry that a show considered diverse on screen, still struggles with protecting people these behind the scenes.”

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(Credit: Ten)

A spokeperson from Neighbours’ production company, Fremantle Media, addressed the allegations of racism made by the various cast members at the time.

“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,” the statement read, (via TV Tonight).

“Shareena’s involvement in the creative process and on set was invaluable and hugely educational and will benefit the series moving forward. There have been significant and lengthy discussions with Shareena during her time on Neighbours and we will continue to work with all cast and crew to ensure Neighbours continues to be a fully inclusive environment.”

In a statement to our sister site, New Idea, Fremantle and Network Ten also responded to the claims.

Chris Oliver-Taylor, CEO of Fremantle Asia Pacific said: “Fremantle is committed to providing an environment where employees and others in the workplace are treated fairly and with respect, and are free from unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and bullying. We do not tolerate behaviour that does not align to our Anti-Discrimination, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Harassment & Bullying Policy and take all complaints very seriously, investigating all allegations fairly and thoroughly. We have asked Campfire X, creative leaders in Indigenous Cultural Protocols, to conduct an independent review of Neighbours and the production process.”

A Network 10 spokesperson also responded to the claims saying: “Network 10 does not tolerate discriminatory or racist behaviour in any form. We work closely with all our production partners to ensure everyone has access to a diverse, inclusive and safe working environment. We support ongoing education and dialogue in the fight against racism and discrimination. We will work with Fremantle, and all cast and crew, to investigate and ensure Neighbours continues to foster a fully inclusive environment.”

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