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Joy Hopwood
Photo taken by Abby Shen
Interviewed in July 2023

Joy Hopwood is a proud Asian Australian, born in Singapore. She celebrated her first birthday on a ship called The Centaur and moved to Perth, Australia when young. 

Joy is a filmmaker and award-winning writer, director and producer and a champion for independent cinema and diversity. Her past films include the first Asian Australian rom-com,  “Rhapsody of Love”, “The Script of Life”, “Get a Life, Alright” and “The Gift that Gives”. “Get a life, Alright”, is about to have its Australian Television premiere  on 21st July at midday on the Nine Network (9Go), then 9 Catch Up.

Joy was a former Play School presenter on A.B.C. Television, and the first regular Asian presenter. She was a contributing writer for Growing Up Asian in Australia published by Black Inc Books, Chinese Australian Women’s Stories and Reflecting on Life. In 2013 she produced the successful theatre show, “The Wong Side of Life,” an anti-bullying and anti-racism initiative. The same year, she founded The Joy House Film Festival with underlying themes of joy and diversity, to give a platform for emerging filmmakers and celebrate their work.
You were the first regular Asian presenter on Play School in the late 90s. How did you land that role?
When talking to a diverse group of primary school children on a prac during university, they revealed that they wanted to be on television but didn’t see anyone who looked like themselves on screen. I blurted at that time, “Well if I can get on a television show, like Play School, then you can achieve your dreams too.” One thing about me is that once I commit to something, I have to follow through.

Soon after, I sold everything I owned in Perth and moved to Sydney. I called the ABC every week, only to hear from them that they only auditioned NIDA graduates and famous actors. That made me think outside the box, so I wrote my own Play School episode, filmed it and sent it in. I called every week for months until they watched my video. They then sent me a Play School script that I had to learn, leading me to audition at ABC studios in Gore Hill in the late 90’s. I was knocked back because I looked young, and was told to get life experiences before coming back for a second chance. I remembered the producer saying that even Benita Collings (long time Playschool presenter) had to audition twice.

So I traveled overseas and built up my acting resume. I came back a few years later, auditioned again and finally got the role. I enjoyed my time from 1997 - 1999 (inclusive) acting alongside Jemima, Big Ted and Humpty - they were my favourites.
Along with being a writer, director and producer, you’re also an actor and artist. What do you think sparked your love for storytelling in all its forms?
I’ve always had a good imagination at school and excelled in literature, creative writing (English) and art. I remember a teacher saying that he always got a laugh reading my stories. I enjoyed reading them out loud to my classmates too. These experiences gave me the courage and confidence to write stories and submit them to publishers. I even self published “Thank You Fairy Joy” and had a small book launch at Barnes and Noble in New York.

I scored high marks in drama too, and my drama teachers would always say that I had good comic timing, which gave me the confidence to pursue acting. I enjoy making people laugh, so much so that I had a brief stint in New York Comedy club doing stand up. I didn’t realise how hard it was - after doing a few shows I quit, because I felt like I had died 6 ft under with embarrassment.

With art, my high school art teacher said that I had a distinct naive and entertaining style, so I’ve  always pursued art as a side job. Back when I was living in New York, I was able to get my art accepted by Paint Box Gallery on Ninth Avenue. 
“Get a Life, Alright” is the first diverse rom-com, drama and musical of its kind. Could you tell us more about the film, and talk through the inspiration behind creating it?
“Get a life, Alright” is about a young, unemployed actor who gets a lucky break whilst delivering flowers on the set of Get a Life (music T.V. show) and falls for the leading actress. This causes friction and jealousy between him and the leading guy, as well as at home with his brother. This film has 80’s & 90’s style music videos which were a large part of my childhood when I was growing up.

All my films are sparked by either a negative moment in my life, individuals who have hurt or disappointed me, or an unresolved situation which I then resolve in my film. I find the process of writing, creating and producing the films very therapeutic.

For example, the lead writes a letter towards the end of the film, that is actually a part of a letter that I wrote to myself when I hit rock bottom. I kept it in my diary, and it was cathartic to use this in my film.
People don’t realise how hard it is to create and then distribute independent films. Since 2018, you’ve created 4 independent films, and are commencing pre-production for your next film “It’s Our Time”, set to film in January next year. What parts of independent filmmaking do you find the most enjoyable, as well as the most challenging?
I love writing, casting and working with a great team of people - Lara Cross (sound recordist / designer), Michael Giglio (1st AD), Valentina Iastrovoba (set designer), Linda Ung (cinematographer) and Stephen Wong (stills photographer). They are my core team who I love and know my working style.

What I don’t enjoy is organizing deliverables for a network / streamer as there’s a lot of formats and lots of paperwork to deliver, which I find tedious.
You are a champion of improving diversity in the entertainment industry; from your motivation to joining Play School, creating Joy House Film Festival and employing diverse people on and off screen in your independent films. Have you witnessed much change in the Australian entertainment industry in relation to diversity, since you’ve stepped foot into it?
In 2013 I only received one diverse entry for the 1st Joy House Film Festival. Now in our 10th year, I’d say we receive at least 40 percent diverse content (where either the filmmaker/ writer/ director/ actor is from a diverse background). I also think since Crazy Rich Asians in 2018 and the #Oscarssowhite movement, there has definitely been quotas and more representation on screen leading to more Asians in TV commercials, Asians on film and streamers.

I love the Netflix series, “Beef” with Ali Wong and Steven Yuen, and I think the film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was also a milestone in the film industry for change.  
on culture and identity
What has your relationship with your Asian Australian identity been like, and how has it evolved?
Growing up in Perth, I experienced racism as a 6 year old on my first day at school. At lunch time, I watched a group of year 6 boys play basketball and I wanted to join in. As soon as the ball rolled out of the basketball court, I ran after it and threw it back to them, hoping they would say thank you and ask me if I wanted to play. But instead they shouted, “Hands off our ball you ugly Jap!” For a period after, I didn’t want to go back to school. At the time, my mother and teacher encouraged me to go back - saying that I had to find something I loved doing and to do it well to gain the respect of others.

After that, I put effort into my writing and sport. I wrote funny stories and presented them to my teacher and classmates. I was good at athletics so I won multiple short distance running races and long jump. By the end of primary school, I was elected prefect and House Captain. I was the only Asian girl at school, and my method of coping with that was by gaining the respect of others in my school through achievements and recognition. I didn’t have any Asian friends growing up in Perth. I only had more Asian friends when I moved to Sydney.
What is a significant cultural memory of yours?
Being a part of Stories East & West, a play at Belvoir St Upstairs Theatre, directed by William Yang and Annette Shun Wah was a significant memory since it was the first time I really embraced my Asian heritage. Stories East & West, brought together six Asian Australians including me, to share our lives, family history and experiences to the audience. We talked over a microphone beside projections of personal photographs.
What is your favourite food from your culture?
I love fried Bee Hoon, Ice Katchang, fried icecream ball and durian.
Who is an Asian Australian that inspires you, and why?
One of my favourite Asian Australians is Alice Pung. She’s so kind, supportive and highly intelligent. She is ego-less, which is very uncommon in the arts and entertainment industry. She doesn’t even feel the need to go on social media to promote her work or herself.

When I go to Melbourne, she’s one of the first people I like to hang out with. I love spending a day with her and her three kids. We’ll play, eat ice cream and have long chats. I love spending time with her and her family.