Diversity in Australian Media will be presenting: Diversity in Practice, a panel discussion programmed as part of this year’s Vivid Sydney Festival, with an aim of examining how change can occur within organisations and age-old institutions. We had a chat with one of the panellists- video journalist Bakri Mahmoud about all things media, accessibility and criticism
You have dabbled in a range of different art forms including poetry, comedy and filmmaking. What specifically drew you to storytelling through film?
I was drawn to journalism because I was infatuated with the idea of foreign correspondence. From an early age, I was highly sceptical of politicians, coming to terms with injustices in the world that I felt were caused by adults with power who were incapable of meaningful resolution. So although I was interested in politics, I never wanted to become a politician, concluding it was a space for battling egos. So that inherent drive to challenge powerful institutions (government or business) and a desire to travel the world, as well as a hobby for filming and telling stories, drew me towards journalism.
What were some challenges you encountered in trying to break into the arts industry?
My biggest challenge in breaking into the TV industry was surrounding myself with self-motivated creatives. I shot and edited my first clip when I was sixteen and found the entire experience enriching. I sought after every opportunity to do work because I felt making visual stories was inherently rewarding. Finding the resources and contacts wasn’t easy so I was always taking full advantage of university resources. It was a genuine passion for visual narratives which eventually led to opportunities in the TV industry.
How has being a Person of Color (POC) and recent immigrant impacted the way you’ve been perceived professionally?
As a Sudanese refugee raised in Australia, I’m often mistaken for not knowing much about mainstream culture or that my privilege of being in a “free and democratic” country means I’m not in a place to criticise the power structures that afford me this privilege. It sometimes feels like my standpoint is less valid because I should feel lucky to even have the freedom to share an opinion, especially in a public media landscape. People often think I don’t have the capacity to think rationally like a civilised, educated person and that any criticism of the government or other power structures I have is merely an emotional one. Which can be a dangerous and isolating attitude, which I find is often given towards people who don’t grow up with a wealth of opportunities.
How could the screen industry be more inclusive of People of Color and first-generation immigrants?
The screen industry could improve by trying to deliver stories genuinely from different perspectives. It should stop trying to rationalise unique perspectives through the lens of materialist Western understanding. Rather it should release the steering wheel and allow minorities to tell their own narratives while providing support and access rather than a constant comparison to popular culture. It’s one thing to provide new work incentives to be more inclusive – it’s another thing to actually involve diverse people in driving the popular narratives.