Neighbours, the long-running and globally successful Australian soap opera, is facing accusations of on-set racism and discrimination.
Sharon Johal, who has played Dipi Rebecchi, one of the show’s leading characters, since April 2017, has come out publicly decrying what she claims were “direct, indirect and casual racism” on the set of the beloved serial drama. Johal posted a statement outlining the allegations on her website, saying that in her four years at Neighbours, she was repeatedly referred to as one of “you people” by another cast member in reference to her Indian heritage. She also alleges a crew member alerted her to the fact that one cast member repeatedly referred to her on set as “the black one” behind her back.
Two Indigenous actors — Shareena Clanton and Meyne Wyatt — previously made similar claims of racist abuse on the Neighbours’ set.
In response, Fremantle, which produces the Australian show, issued a statement. “We do not tolerate behavior that does not align to our Anti-Discrimination, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Harassment & Bullying Policy and take all complaints very seriously, investigating all allegations fairly and thoroughly,” it said.
Fremantle said it will carry out an independent review into alleged systemic racism on the Neighbours set.
“We remain committed to ensuring a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees on the set of Neighbours and take very seriously any questions about racism or any other form of discrimination,” a representative for Fremantle Asia Pacific said in a statement to the Guardian Australia, which first broke the news of Johal’s allegations.
Fremantle said it was working with Indigenous consultancy firm Campfire X in its investigation and pledged to ” take whatever next steps are appropriate.”
Network 10, which airs Neighbours in Australia, said in a statement in response to the allegations by Clanton and Wyatt that the channel “does not tolerate discriminatory or racist behavior in any form.” The channel, which is owned by ViacomCBS, added: “We work closely with all our production partners to ensure everyone has access to a diverse, inclusive and safe working environment. We support ongoing education and dialogue in the fight against racism and discrimination. We will work with Fremantle, and all cast and crew, to investigate and ensure Neighbours continues to foster a fully inclusive environment.”
Johal posted on social media that she would “love to provide” the names of the cast members she has accused of racial abuse but “if you know anything about defamation law in Australia, [you know] this is not possible for me to do so.” She has, she said, provided the names to Fremantle and “will assist as much as I can in the welcomed investigation. No one else should have to put up with this.”
Johal says she complained to Fremantle on a number of occasions about racist comments on the Neighbours set. While the producers were sympathetic to her plight, she writes in her statement, and that on one occasion an actor accused of abuse was reprimanded, “no further action was taken… The company’s position was that I needed to come to them directly at the time each of these incidents occurred.”
Johal says the action by management actually led to her being targeted again. She says that she believes “the reticence of a victim to come forward in a workplace culture in which perpetrators are seen to be held accountable [and] where the person reporting was afraid of being further targeted by the perpetrator and in fear of losing their job.”
Johal said she recognized the “great strides” Neighbours has made in recent years to become more inclusive and more representative of the diversity in Australian society. She also acknowledged the contribution the series had made to her own career.
“But it is clear the system has failed,” she said. “It’s both heartbreaking and telling of our industry that a show considered diverse still struggles with protecting these people in reality, behind the scenes.”