Changing film and TV from within – Joy Hopwood


Melbourne filmmaker Joy Hopwood has been advocating for diversity in film and TV for over 20 years. Now, not only is she noticing a positive change towards fair representation in the industry, she's just made her first feature film that tackles the subject head on.

We asked Joy where her drive and passion began:

'One day, whilst doing Drama and Television at university, I was with a group of enthused drama children – a lot of whom were multicultural – and I asked them, "What would you like to do in the future?".

'An Aboriginal boy and a Chinese girl said, "We really want to be in TV and film, but you don't see anyone like us on TV."

'So I blurted out, "Right, if I can become one of the first coloured people on TV, like on Play School, then would you give it a shot?"

'And they said, "Yeah, but it'll never happen!".

'That compelled me to try and be on Play School.'

Undeterred after being knocked back for not being a NIDA graduate or a 'known identity', she wrote her own script, filmed it, and sent it in. On the back of this, Joy was offered an audition but was told she 'looked too young' and that they were looking for 'a more motherly kind of person with more life experience'.

'So I travelled and I gained more experience,' she told us defiantly, 'and then I went back a year-and-a-half later and finally got onto Play School'

Getting her message heard

Fast forward 20 years and Joy is still doing everything she can to bring greater diversity to our screens. She's been an active member of the Asian Australian Alliance (a grassroots, community-based network with the purpose of challenging policies and pushing for change to create greater diversity and representation of Asian Australians in mainstream society) for several years now, and has been running the Joy House Film Festival for the past four, which offers prizes for the best film made by a woman, best diversity short film and best youth film, among others.

Now she's written, produced and starred in her first feature film, The Casting Game, which also deals with diversity.

'The Casting Game takes us on a journey,' she told us. 'There are four storylines. The first is about a group of school friends reuniting. They dare one of the friends, Gary, to go on a date with the first girl who comes his way in the café. He agrees, and it happens to be a girl in a wheelchair. He goes out with her but there are a lot of challenges, as he normally dates models. The next storyline is about two sisters who reunite with their long-lost half-sister who they try to "Australianise". Another is about actors competing in the casting game. And then there's one which, well, I won't say because I don't want to reveal too much!'

Fair enough, we wouldn't want to spoil it for our readers. But, without giving too much away, what is the underlying message of the film?

'It's about not judging people.

'I feel our society is very me–focused and that there's a lack of community. Even though the film is comedic, I want the audience to be mindful as well as entertained. I want them to start understanding people with disabilities, people from other countries coming to Australia... I just want people to appreciate people from all walks of life, basically.'

When inspiration strikes

We were impressed to hear that after Joy had conceived the idea of The Casting Game, she wrote it in just under two weeks.

'Well I actually wanted to finish it in three days, nonstop, but after 24 hours I just had to sleep. I was in the zone but couldn't keep going due to fatigue. But yeah, it took me under two weeks to write.

'Last week though, I finished writing my second feature film. That one took me just 18 hours to complete. When it comes, it comes.'

And how does this next film compare to The Casting Game?

'It's grittier. The Casting Game is a family film, but this one is more of a rom–com. It's about love and sacrifices, situations and experiences. I'm really excited about this next film.'

It's clear from talking to Joy that none of the drive and passion she had when she took on the challenge to become a Play School presenter has faded in the slightest, and it's easy to see why she was one of our #KickingYourGoals winners: 'I'm doing what I love for a purpose, and that's to change people's lives. I'm not doing it for my own ego, but to try and change a point of view.'

'Making a difference in people's lives is an ongoing goal of mine, by "creating" work with life messages in them, whether it be in film, literature, theatre or the visual arts. I hope to continue this in hope for social change.'