Film: Why Ola had to be a surfer


A powerful short film on the devastating personal impact of everyday racism in Australia.


As citizens of a nation which prides itself on multiculturalism and acceptance we often forget to ask ourselves "what does it mean to be Australian?".

To international visitors the concept may include bushwalks, surfing, and putting another shrimp on the barbecue (a cliche we still haven't been able to shake). To many Australians, the response would be along the lines of embracing everyone, no matter their religion, ethnicity, or background. As a nation we love to boast about our diverse population and inclusivity, whilst pointing fingers at acts of racism in other countries.

The powerful short film, Ola, by Tasnova Sattar and Michael Nguy, highlights this issue with its prominent focus on the occurence of Islamophobia in Australian life, particularly in public spaces, and the complicity of witnesses who choose not to intervene. A 2019 University of Sydney study found Muslims were overwhelmingly the most common target of religiously motivated hate crime in NSW making up 73 per cent of reported cases.

'It's not enough to not be racist, you have to be anti-racist.'

As a society, we like to present ourselves as faultless and welcoming, but in reality we don't always extend that welcome to our own people, simply because they're not white.

In the film, we ride with Ola, a young Australian-Muslim woman who wears the hijab, as she encounters racial slurs and misconceptions on her train journey across Sydney. We sympathise and grow frustrated, then fearful, alongside her as she is religiously identified and then harassed by older white Australians for wearing the hijab.

Sattar said she wanted the film to make people question what they believed to be Australian. "It's not some dinky-di Aussie with blonde hair and blue eyes and eating meat pies all day. Being Australian is much more of an emotional thing. It's the fact that you have to be open and aware of so many different cultures because we are in such a shared space so you have to be able to understand other people and where they're coming from and what their culture practices mean to them no matter what they look like to you.

"That's the reason I actually decided to make her a surfer because that is the most stereotypically Aussie thing I can think of for people outside of Australia. So I wanted people to draw the comparison between these people on the train who are making her feel un-Australian, making her feel alienated for wearing the hijab."

The film also explores of the role of the bystander, suggesting responsibility for racism does not rest solely with the aggressor but also with the bystander whose silence enables it.

"The ideas for the film actually came about from my personal experiences," said Sattar, who directed the short film. "While I was writing the film, it was around about the time when the Black Lives Matter protests were really the focal point here in Australia. People were talking a lot about how it's not enough to be not racist, you have to be anti-racist."

The reality is nearly all of us are the bystander. We fear confrontation and interjecting ourselves in other peoples' business.

Sattar hopes that the message of the film is loud and clear, that it doesn't matter how much you post online or verbally declare yourself as "not a racist", actions speak louder than words and intervention is as effective as prevention.

"It's not enough to not be racist, you have to be anti-racist," Sattar said. "We need to be stopping these things when we see them from happening in order to actually make [Islamic] people realise that they're free and welcome to be in this community."

Tasnova Sattar and Michael Nguy created Ola for UNSW's Screen Production course ARTS1064.


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