Writer, creator, and actress Gemma Bird Matheson wasn’t getting any acting roles – so she and co-creator Alexandra Keddie created their own TV series. The show, The Housemate, a tongue-in-cheek take on The Bachelor, began as a web series, but it soon went viral and was picked up by the ABC.
Of mixed Papua New Guinean, English, South African and Scottish descent, Gemma often found herself being stereotyped by casting directors. But by taking destiny into her own hands, Gemma has broken out of the tokenized ‘ethnic actor’ box and trailblazed her own path.
Now sitting on an advisory board to promote inclusivity and diversity in TV, Gemma has opened up opportunities for other actors struggling in an industry rife with gender and racial inequalities.
After traveling to LA for the illustrious Heath Ledger Scholarship and being featured by the likes of Vogue and Marie Claire, it’s no doubt we can expect to see much more of Gemma soon.
“A lot of the things I am writing and developing are really personal to me. They are about my life or my family. Essentially, they are stories which are not on Australian TV; things that I would have liked to seen as a mixed race girl growing up in Australia. These are the shows I wanted to watch, this is my driving force behind why I write,” she says. “If you’re not seeing yourself represented it can affect your sense of identity. Our world view is made up so much of what we see on TV and film.”
You can stream The Housemate now on ABC iView.
QUESTIONS WITH GEMMA
Tell us about your show?
Alexandra Keddie and I co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in the series. We had been studying screenwriting and we both dropped out. We got to a point where we wanted to start working and we had so many young female friends in the same boat: so talented and not working.
We were initially going to do a play and we couldn’t find anything that we resonated with, so we decided to write a short film. We loved The Bachelorette, so we decided to write a parody on looking for a housemate over a love interest. Essentially we weren’t working, so we made our own show.
We uploaded a teaser on socials and within the first week we got 260k views, which was insane. We started sending it out and had huge responses with comments and people sharing it. The ABC called us within half an hour of sending it out, they called and said, “okay, we are making a TV show.”
Thoughts on diversity in Australian TV?
It has become a movement at the moment – it is so much more then ticking a box. Our world view is made up so much of what we see on TV and film, if you’re not seeing yourself represented it can affect your sense of identity.
What are some main issues affecting young women today?
The ability to own your power. As a women if you speak out, confident and assertive, you can be labelled in a negative way. This year is women going, “I know my value, I know what I want to say, I am not going to compromise. I am going to assert myself” – I think it’s important for women to be doing that.