A film about an Australian-Chinese war hero in which the lead role is played by a white actor has provoked anger in Australia at the “whitewashing” of the nation’s history.
Billy Sing, whose father was Chinese and mother British, was a decorated soldier from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of World War I at which he earned the name “the assassin” for his success as a sniper.
But in the yet-to-be released TV film The Legend of Billy Sing, his character is played by a young Caucasian actor.
“I’m very sorry to learn that somebody is trying to whitewash a Chinese-Australian face with a white face. It’s a disgrace,” said Tony Pang, president of the Chinese Australian Forum.
“To see this distortion of historical fact — it’s sad,” he said.
Pang said Australia’s Chinese community had been subjected to such treatment in decades gone by, but that times had changed.
“The question I ask myself is: What if [former prime minister] John Howard is being played by a Pakistani? It’s ridiculous. It’s just not appropriate,” he said.
Director Geoff Davis, who cast his son in the lead role, defended his decision to the Australian newspaper last week, saying he had been unable to find an actor to play Sing’s Shanghai-born father.
The filmmaker said his aim was to “create a fictional story validated by having people perform true deeds, in the tradition of the historical novel.”
Former National Party senator Bill O’Chee, whose father was Chinese and mother Irish-Australian, said he was “deeply disappointed.”
“We’ll now have people growing up thinking Billy Sing was white,” he said.
Henry Makeham of the Australia-China Youth Association said the film was a lost opportunity to showcase the contribution of ethnic minorities to Australia’s wartime history.
There was no dearth of Australian-Chinese actors who could have fit the role, he said.
“It was essentially a whiting out of a Chinese-Australian hero,” he said.
Queensland-born Sing was the most successful sniper in the Gallipoli campaign, killing more than 200 enemy soldiers. He died in 1943.