Albert Mambo stars as an African student ‘Kwami’ in the new Chris Lilley TV show Ja’mie.
The show highlights some significant issues of racism within Australia, especially through the cringeworthy perspective of Ja’mie, who sees Kwami as her charity project. While the show is indeed a satire on Australian school kids, it hits painfully close to the bone on many issues, especially racism.
Kwami, acted amazingly by Albert, is portrayed as silent and unable to speak English, even though he comes from Uganda (where the official language is English). Depicted as poor and uneducated, the characters reflect a racist assumption held by many in the Australian community towards African migrants. References to slavery and apartheid are also thrown in by Ja’mie’s dad, who in South African fashion mentions he knows a number of blacks – they are good workers.
The scene of Ja’mie’s parents “rescuing” Kwami from a community housing project also play into the ‘saviour’ white person syndrome, and other scenes offer a critique of the rich white girl going to ‘Africa’ to save them from poverty. Again, this doesn’t fall to far from reality, which is the reason the show is at times hard to watch.
Ja’mie is so close to the truth it can be easily forgotten that Chris Lilley is essentially making a scathing social commentary of Australian society by holding a mirror up to the Australia public. Anyone who thinks that this doesn’t reflect Australia hasn’t been to high school for a long time.
In an interview a couple of months ago in Right Now, Albert Mambo talks about coming to Australia from Uganda and the issues of racism in Australia.
Right Now: Did you know anything about Australia when you came?
I knew the soccer teams and the rugby team. I knew it was the biggest island continent. And I knew about kangaroos.
What was your first expectation of Australia when you came?
I thought everyone would be nice, loving and caring but everything changed when I got here. Racism, discrimination and a lot of things changed my expectation of Australia.
Do you think racism is a big problem is Australia?
Yes, it’s the main problem.
Why did you come to Australia?
I came to Australia because it is a safe place to be. Uganda was not safe. Australia is a safe place apart from the racism.
What are you doing now in Australia?
When I came to Australia my plan was different. In high school I did science subjects and I wanted to be a doctor but since experiencing racism and discrimination here in Australia my plans changed and I want to be a youth worker to help other people who are experiencing racism, especially the African community.
Can you tell me an example of racism that you have experienced?
One day, when I was new to Australia, I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing to cross the road. Other people waiting started to cross the road when it was red, so I joined them. The police stopped me and gave me a fine, but they didn’t give the others a fine. That was my first experience of racism in Australia. I was only new and studying English in Australia. The police saw that I was black and from Africa and refused to let me off.
Another time, I was waiting at the bus stop. There were other people waiting as well, but the police only came up to me. They asked me questions like what am I doing here and told me I shouldn’t be here. I told them I was waiting for the bus just like everyone else but they only questioned me because I am black.
What was your life like in Uganda?
My life in Uganda was nice. Being here with all the racism makes me want to go back to Uganda. Because everyone there is like a brother and sister but the racism here is bad. It made me feel like going back.
To tell you the truth I feel sorry for the African people here because when the white people go to Africa they are treated like kings and queens. There is nothing like racism there because everyone is welcoming.
Why do you think there is racism in Australia?
I don’t know. According to what I understand it is because some small number of African people are making mistakes and they think everyone is the same. You can’t judge a book by its cover. They think because some African people break the law all African people break the law. But they don’t even know all the African people.
Ja’mie is a 6 part ABC comedy that airs every Wednesday at 9.30pm. You can watch the full episodes via iview here.