Aboriginal Australian Film/TV you should watch

If you look at Indigenous peoples in developed nations around the world, Aboriginal Australians are one of the worst off groups. They have a life expectancy 10 years less than non-Aboriginal Australians, high rates of diabetes, renal failure, incarceration, poverty and a history of racism and psychological damage from policies that lead to children being systematically removed from their families and lands until the ’70s. There have been lots of attempts to ‘Close the Gap’ in health and life outcomes, with varying success and sometimes more damage than good. One area in which I have noticed a significant improvement over the past 5 or so years has been in film and tv both in the amount and the exposure it is getting to the wider population.


A few years ago there was a landmark short TV series on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Channel) called Redfern Now, where each episode told the story of a different (fictional) Aboriginal character in the Sydney suburb of Redfern. The stories were written by Aboriginal writers and each showed different sides of what it means to be an Aboriginal in modern day, metropolitan Australia. It was received well, and an entire Aboriginal TV channel was created not long after.


This month there is a new TV show out called ‘Cleverman’, which is great for several reasons. Like Redfern Now, it is a 6 part TV series conceived, written, produced and acted primarily by Aboriginal people. What is new and interesting about this show, is the concept- it is a dark, gritty Aboriginal superhero story. There are hundreds of different Aboriginal cultural groups, who each have their own stories and traditions, and in some of them, there is a person called a ‘Cleverman’ who has special powers, and in some there are creatures called the ‘Hairies’ who are hairy humainoids that might get you if you are bad- much like a bogeyman. In Cleverman, these ideas are admixed into a city rife with racism, self-serving politics and fear-mongering media. The situation with the hairies could be seen as an allegory about the past treatment of Aboriginal people, or Australia’s current treatment of refugees. It is very dark at times, playing out to the end what happens when people divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’- which makes anything you do to ‘them’ acceptable (including violence, incarceration for no reason, forced prostitution, buying people, degradation etc). The world is a rich one, with complex characters, none of whom are completely good, although some of them do seem to be completely bad. The set design is fabulous- with each environment/room speaking volumes about its inhabitant.


As well as saying a bit about Cleverman (who I was reminded about by today’s Wordhigh July prompt, Balintataw (n) the pupil of the eye, because of the change in colour of one eye that happens when he develops his powers), I thought I would mention a few other Aboriginal shows that I think are worthwhile watching if anyone wants to learn a bit more about Aborignal Australians through the media of film and tv. There may well be many more I haven’t seen, and I am not sure how easy it would be to obtain them overseas, but here are my recommendations:


  1. Redfern Now (2012-2015)
    • tv series, drama
    • Setting: modern, realistic city
    • each episodes show cases a different character’s story, creating a realistic overview of life in modern Australia for Aboriginal people
    • can be sad at times, other times is positive, mildly confronting sometimes
  2. Cleverman (2016)
    • tv series, drama/scifi,
    • Setting: dystopian city,
    • dark, political 6 part series, with supernatural aspects (see above)
    • can be quite confronting
  3. Sampson & Delilah (2009)
    • movie, drama
    • Setting: rural modern day Australia
    • Follows two Aboriginal teenagers who fall in love and try to navigate all the barriers that life has placed in their way (derelict places, drug use, racism, injustice…). There is minimal dialogue; the story is mostly told through observation.
    • I found it a rather bleak depiction, fairly sad, moderately confronting
  4. Bran Nue Dae (2009)
    • Movie, comedy, musical
    • Setting: rural and city western Australia
    • Follows a young Aboriginal man as he discovers he doesn’t want to be a priest, because he would rather live on the land he belongs to with the girl that he loves, and his crazy journey back home. The long roadtrip is accompanied by a host of mishaps, odd companions, and of course many song and dance numbers.
    • Happy, fun movies that will have you laughing and dancing along. Not confronting
  5. Mabo (2012)
    • Film/docudrama
    • Setting: Torres Straight Islands and city
    • Mabo was man who successfully waged a long legal battle for native land title recognition. Probably the most significant case in Australia ever. ‘Mabo’ is a household name, and the term is used as a complete argument in itself in another classic Australian move ‘The Castle’.
    • Uplifting, educational, I can’t remember if it was confronting- so can’t have been too bad
  6. Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)
    • Film, drama
    • Setting: rural
    • A film about the Stolen Generation- loosely based on a true story, 3 young girls who are removed from their family to a mission hundreds of km away decide to return home. The walk for weeks, evading the authorities attempts to recapture them.
    • Mildly confronting
  7. Black As & Black comedy (2015-2016)
    • Tv comedy sketch shows
    • I have only watched a couple episodes and sketch shows aren’t really my thing- but I think it is important to have this genre also being made, and acknowledged.
  8. The Sapphires (2012)
    • Movie, musical drama
    • Setting: Aus, and vietnam
    • The story of four Aboriginal girls from rural Australia who are discovered by a talent scout, and go on be famous, and sing for the troops in Vietnam.
    • Heartwarming, fun, musical. Not confronting.

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