Crystal Nguyen on the importance of representation in the media that needs it the most

There's a shared understanding throughout our conversation about the significance of Decks as a character in Eddie's Lil Homies that between us could remain unsaid, but I have to ask.

Anyone who's paid even a scrap of attention to my public advocacy over the years knows how much I care about representation, particularly in media consumed and loved by children. It's my view that if you can start exposing and normalising diversity to children at a young age, then you give them the tools they need to become great allies as well as making it easier for them to grow up and live with empathy and tolerance at the forefront of their emotional toolbox.

That's why I was so excited to hear about the brand new show Eddie's Lil' Homies adapted from the book series of the same name by AFL great and proud Gubrun, Wirangu/Kokatha man, Eddie Betts. Eddie's Lil' Homies is a beautiful animated series involving a group of ragtag friends, whose main goal is having fun. They come from all different walks of life and in my experience represent the very real, beautiful diversity of Australia's playgrounds.

The character that instantly caught my eye? Decks, an 8-year-old girl that uses a wheelchair who is also a vibrant and energetic DJ. She's voiced by the incredible disabled actress and one of my good friends, Crystal Nguyen, who I've previously interviewed for her role in the SBS series Erotic Stories. There's a big difference between the two roles and we giggle over the 180 degree range between them as we chat on Zoom. Much like Decks, Crystal is vibrant, her energy infectious, her laugh contagious and the messages contained in a single eyebrow raise astounding.

She's done voiceover work before, but it's mainly been in her first language, Vietnamese, and never for a series hoping to be embraced this widely. It's a collaboration between NITV here in Australia and Netflix globally, the impact of which is not lost on either of us, Crystal calling it "really such an honour to be part of something as groundbreaking as the show.

Hooked to the concept brought to her by the show's incredible creators, Decks presented simply as "just this fun energetic kid that uses her mobility aids as a neutral thing and as like a fun addition to all the group's adventures." What sealed the deal was the freedom they gave her in bringing Decks to life. "She could be as similar or different to me as I wanted and a lot of the animation was based on our performances and what we chose to do, so I actually haven't seen any of it yet," she laughs. As someone who was given access to exclusive screeners, I tell her she has nothing to worry about.

There's a shared understanding throughout our conversation about the significance of Decks as a character that between us could remain unsaid, but I have to ask. When I do, Crystal nods, "I think representation for kids is so important because it's the most important stage to learn about empathy, to learn that people's differences are neutral, are value neutral, and that you should embrace everyone, no matter what they look like and how they contribute and their access needs and I think what better way to get that than through entertainment. And I'd like to say, edutainment."

I think I might be borrowing the phrase "edutainment" from now on. It perfectly describes what I've been trying to get people to understand for years. The benefits of edutainment and childhood representation are two-fold. Not only do they create empathy, but they foster a sense of belonging. Both Crystal and I agree that having a character like Decks onscreen and in books while we were growing up would have made a world of difference, easing the loneliness and segregation we often felt on the playground instead.

I can't wait for Crystal's DMs to be flooded with messages and videos of young kids finally seeing themselves and learning along the way. Eddie's Lil' Homies is going to change the game for so many people, not just the disabled community, and you know what? It's about time. Representation has always mattered. Thank God the world is finally starting to recognise that.

Eddie's Lil' Homies premieres on NITV and Netflix on February 16th.