“I’m fortunate enough to be me,” says Jo. She’s talking about what the best thing about being a young woman is. She’s smiling, radiating gratitude.
Jo and I meet outside Peter Rabbit, a café on Hindley Street that looks like a huge front garden, complete with path leading to the enclosed area. The wood fire’s burning. There are also two rabbits in residence.
“You look so cute!” She says as she walks to close the gap between us, arms open to embrace me. Jo is no different to a ‘welcome home’ banner when you’ve been away for months.
While we wait for our food – Jo gets the dukkha eggs and a cappuccino, I get carrot cake and a soy latte – we talk about our week so far, mainly focusing on university. Jo asks what my course (journalism) is like in terms of diversity. I tell her minimal, and she says, “Essentially, you guys are going to be the future of the media that we listen to.”
“Do you reckon it’s because they [people of colour] feel discouraged? That they feel that they, as people, have been treated like they’re less valid of having an opinion so they feel discouraged to pursue a potential career in that field?”
The interview hasn’t officially started, yet she’s about to answer all my questions. This is what it’s like being friends with Jo. You feel like you’re changing the world through conversation. And maybe this is how we can change it. By having open discussions.
Eighteen year-old Josephine Ainscough has the world at her fingertips. She’s half-Indonesian, studies film, has a large following on social media, and runs a popular blog with her best friend. She’s Adelaide’s very own ‘It Girl’.
The waiter brings out our food and tells us we’re going to get rained on if we keep sitting outside. Jo tells him it’s all about positive thinking.
I acknowledge that I’m not a woman of colour, and that reporting on minority groups as a white person can be problematic. Being able to sit and listen to someone talk about their experiences and for my opinions to be irrelevant is so important.
Jo describes her identity as being stuck in limbo.
“When I was younger I struggled with the concept of ‘but they don’t really want me, so what am I?’” Seeing herself reflected back in the media was uncommon, and while Jo says she loved Mulan and Pocahontas due to seeing parts of herself in them, they weren’t a completely accurate representation of her.
“Being bi-racial is still uncharted territory in the media… I see half of me in the media. I don’t see the other half. Where is that?”
While studying film sounds difficult enough, she explains the many other pressures and difficulties she has tackled with being a woman of colour in the classroom and industry.
“In class me and my friend are the only people of colour, and we’re both half-white, too. So as a whole, we’re one person of colour.” She laughs. Jo sees the humour in everything, but she’s serious. Serious about change and her capability to make it happen.
When Jo mentions she’s done some acting in the past and would consider it again in the future, she brings up the problems with casting and roles.
“I would be cast as a ‘nerdy Asian’ and I’m better than that.” She’s not being arrogant when she says this. She’s speaking for everyone who’s gone through a similar struggle. “It’s either the sexy Asian or the nerdy Asian and I don’t want to be either.”
Although she doesn’t say it outright, it seems like writing is on the cards, too.
“I can actually do something with the abilities that I have in film [creating roles], whereas as an actor you just have to wait.”
Earlier in the morning she told me that she wants to give her characters “the privilege of being bored” on screen. I heard the whole world applaud.
“I want it to be so normalised for people of colour being in films that they can be looking out the window.”
“When people talk about representation in film, it’s like ‘I want to hear their stories and their struggle’, like ten years a slave. Seven years a slave? How many years?” She stops and laughs. “Enough years. And yeah, those stories are really powerful but we’re exploiting minorities in that their stories have to be so amazing that we care about them.”
Shows such as Girls and Broad City are progressive due to being made by and featuring young women. Although Jo and I agree that the latter is better because of representation of faith and people of colour, the two are still mainly focused around white people.
“Even the things that are progressive aren’t as progressive as they could be.”
“Having to be like ‘Wait a second, is what I’m watching in line with the progressive mindset that I have?’ Because sometimes I just watch dumb shit and I’m like ‘Yeah!’ then I realise there were no females, there were only white males.”
The idea of a struggling artist is one all young people involved in the arts are aware of, and most have come to accept. Jo is definitely one of them.
“I don’t want to wake up 45 and be like ‘What the fuck have I done’… I’m keen for stability but I don’t think my job will ever be really stable,” her whole face lights up. “But that’s exciting. A bit of spontaneity is nice.”
Talking about the future gives Jo an air of hindsight before she’s even begun.
“I want to be proud of the shit that I do and be proud of the stuff that I create for myself more than anyone else. Well, firstly for myself. If other people like it, then cool, that’s great.” I mention that it’s similar to getting dressed. She agrees. “Yeah. I’m glad you enjoy how I dress but I like it first so that’s what’s most important. It’s not for your validation.”
The second time we catch up for this interview, Jo’s wearing an oversized shirt, white overalls, a bandana tied around her neck, and sunglasses that give a nod to the 60’s. At one point she starts to fiddle with her bandana, then freezes. “It took me ages to get this to lie flat this morning.”
Some people treat choosing an outfit as dressing up as a character. Whether Jo sees it like this or not, you can feel her energy by how she’s presenting herself to the world that day by her costume. Today – and all days – she is cool. Effortlessly so. This is how I’ve always known Jo to be, though. She’s the type of cool that makes you want to find white overalls because you saw her wear them once. (I might have done this.)
Aside from film and fashion, another form of self-expression Jo has a love for is photography. As soon as she mentions this, she addresses an issue. “You say that [you take photos] and people expect you to pull out your film camera. I pull my iPhone out and take a photo of my coffee.”
Her unapologetic attitude to using her phone prompts me to reflect on a coffee date I had with Jo late last year. We had gone to a hole-in-the-wall café I didn’t know existed (all part of Jo’s charm) and she took a photo of her food on her phone. She hesitantly stood up from the table to get a better angle and then said, “No, fuck it, why is there a taboo on taking photos on your phone in public?” I tell her how much I loved that outburst, and she shakes her head, smiling, seemingly embarrassed she had said that and by me remembering it. She proves me wrong. “Why should we be embarrassed? It’s a function that’s on everybody’s phone these days.”
Jo’s Instagram boasts almost ten thousand followers and is a collection of photos of her friends, plants, scenery, food, and her own face. It’s an accurate and eclectic representation of her every day. When I ask about branding, she scoffs.
“I’m very aware of what you show is how people portray you, whether it’s accurate or not. But I’m like,” she waves her phone around and pretends to take photos, “and then you’ll see it on Instagram later. That’s literally the extent of me building a brand.”
“I’m not trying to curate this image of me. I would rather someone meet me and have a good perception of me than see me online and be like ‘Oh my god, I really wanna hang out with her’ because of pictures of food and a tree.”
With Jo’s following on social media, and having hundreds of likes/reblogs on photos of her striking face, she tells me a story of when she got recognised before school a couple of years ago. She had fallen asleep on the tram and as she had gotten off a girl grabbed her by the arm and asked, “Are you Jo?” Jo’s sister later told her that the girl had been taking photos of her sleeping. Jo bursts into peels of laughter. “That’s so funny. Some girl has photos of me sleeping on her phone!”
As we walk back down the path to leave the café, a group of girls catch sight of Jo and watch us leave. It’s clear they recognise her. She smiles cheekily. “Should I wave?”
Jo’s heading into uni and I’m going home, but I catch the bus in the opposite direction for a few stops to spend more time with her.
This is what it’s like to be friends with Jo. You’ll do anything for five more minutes.