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11 Indigenous Australian dramas to celebrate NAIDOC Week 2020

To mark NAIDOC Week 2020, we’ve put together a collection of 11 Indigenous Australian dramas across film, TV series and online funded by Screen Australia and available to watch now.

This year’s NAIDOC Week runs from 8 – 15 November, and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Indigenous Australians. The theme for 2020 is Always Was, Always Will Be, and recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years.

Broadcasters NITV/SBS and ABC, as well as streaming services Stan and Netflix are highlighting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content across their platforms this week. With so many titles to choose from, we’ve shone a spotlight on just a fragment of the wonderful content that’s out there.

For non-scripted content, you can also view our Spotlight on Indigenous Voices showcase, a collection of documentaries about the discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.  

Note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article may mention and/or contain images of deceased persons.

1. Black Comedy

A scene from Black Comedy, a parody of the Last Supper

Touted as a show by blackfellas for blackfellas, Black Comedy is a sketch comedy series, now with four seasons under its belt. It uses a mixture of parody, historical revisionism, satire and pop culture references in a comedic exploration of what it means to be black in contemporary Australia. Among its repertoire is the “Blakforce” sketch - an Indigenous version and satirical take on American reality show Cops, where Black Force officers investigate the crime of “blackfellas not acting black enough”. Crimes like driving a Prius, buying a Delta Goodrem CD, shopping for organic groceries, and watching Masterchef can warrant the revoking of one’s “race card” and its associated benefits. With sharp writing from the likes of Nakkiah Lui, Steven Oliver and Nayuka Gorrie and starring actors Bjorn Stewart and Meyne Wyatt (just to name a few), start bingeing this series now.

Watch series one and two on Stan here or purchase/rent the complete series on iTunes here

2. Cleverman

The cast of Cleverman

Created by Ryan Griffen, six-part superhero series Cleverman draws on several stories of the Aboriginal Dreamtime, as it reflects on issues like border protection, asylum seekers and refugees. An anxious and conflicted society struggles to co-exist with the “dangerous” sub-human creatures living amongst them, the Hairies. Two estranged brothers, Koen and Waruu West, are forced to come together to stop the bloodshed between human and Hairy, as Koen learns to harness his powers as Cleverman. Boasting an impressive cast, it stars actors including Hunter Page-Lochard, Deborah Mailman, Tasma Walton, Rob Collins, Rarriwuy Hick, Jack Charles and Game of Thrones’ Iain Glen.

You can purchase or rent episodes on iTunes here

For more, check out our interview with Hunter Page-Lochard on transitioning from acting to directing in this Next Steps video.

3. Kiki and Kitty

Kitty and Kiki

Absurdist comedy series Kiki and Kitty follows the adventures of a young do-gooder Kiki (Nakkiah Lui) in a big white world. After a drunken night out, her vagina comes to life in the personification of a big black woman (Elaine Crombie) who also becomes her best friend. She’s like a fairy godmother in skin-tight sequins, building Kiki’s confidence and pushing her outside of her comfort zone. Short, sweet and entertaining, this 6 x 12 minute series also provides social commentary on identity, race and sex in a humorous way.

Watch the whole series on YouTube here

4. Mystery Road (TV series)

Detective Jay Swan stands in a remote landscape, his hands resting on a fence

A spin-off from Ivan Sen’s feature films Mystery Road and Goldstone, this series is a neo-Western crime drama that picks up a narrative thread between the two films. Directed by Rachel Perkins, the first series sees Aaron Pederson continue his role as Akubra-wearing, troubled detective Jay Swan who is called in by local cop Emma James (Judy Davis) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two young farm hands on an outback cattle station. Meanwhile, series two – which premiered at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival - is set in a small fictional coastal community, where Jay Swan takes on a grisly new case after the discovery of a headless body in the coastal mangroves. As Jay and his new partner Fran (Jada Alberts) investigate drug rings and a local conflict over an archaeological dig, they find themselves caught between two worlds, white law and deep lore (traditional knowledge, beliefs and stories). With highly distinguished filmmakers Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair at the helm of series two and a stellar cast, these gripping dramas are a must-see.

Watch series one on Stan here and purchase/rent series two on iTunes here

5. Redfern Now

Redfern Now

First airing on ABC in 2012, ground-breaking TV series Redfern Now centres on the lives of six Aboriginal Australian families living in inner-city Sydney in The Block, Redfern. Produced by Blackfella Films, the series has been directed by some of Australia’s most celebrated creatives, including Rachel Perkins, Catriona McKenzie, Wayne Blair and Leah Purcell, with the addition of renowned UK screenwriter Jimmy McGovern as story producer. It’s the first television series to be "commisioned, written, acted and produced by Indigenous Australians", and explores issues of mental health, fractured families, relationships and neighbourhood disputes through powerful and bittersweet stories of contemporary inner city life. It swept up a wealth of AACTA and Logie awards for both seasons and is available to watch now.

Watch seasons one and two and telemovie Promise Me on Stan here

6. Robbie Hood

Robbie Hood sits in the front seat of a car, his arm hanging out the window

AACTA award-winning Robbie Hood is a short-form series that follows cheeky but charming 13-year Robbie in his hometown of Alice Springs. Writer-director Dylan River says the show is based on both his and his family’s experiences growing up in Alice. It puts a new spin on the Robin Hood folk tale; Robbie is a troublemaker but has a heart of gold and spends his days roaming the streets with his gang of merry friends. He steals from the rich (or borrows heavily) and gives to the poor (mostly friends and family), has to put up with his dad and loves his nan. 

You can binge this cheeky and heart-warming series (only 6 x 10 minute episodes) on SBS On Demand here  

7. The Sapphires

The Sapphires sing on stage

Based on the hit stage-play of the same name, Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires centres on a 1960s Aboriginal girl group. Yorta Yorta women Gail, Cynthia, Julie and Kay are sexy, black, young and talented and while performing at a local competition singing American country covers, they’re discovered by Irish talent scout Dave (Chris O’Dowd). Trading Australia for Asia and country music for Motown, the group is plucked from their remote Aboriginal mission and land a gig touring US military bases on Vietnam, branded as Australia’s answer to The Supremes. With a stellar cast including Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell and Chris O’Dowd, The Sapphires is a feel-good film with everything from romance and adventure to killer tunes. At the core, it’s a story of the bravery and talent of the Aboriginal quartet as they pushed back against racial discrimination and used the power of song.

Watch The Sapphires on Netflix here

If you’re in the mood for more musicals, you should also check out Bran Nue Dae on Stan, or see the film that reunited director Wayne Blair and actor Miranda Tapsell with the romantic comedy Top End Wedding on Netflix.

8. Spear

A scene from Spear

Spear is the directorial debut from acclaimed artistic director and choreographer Stephen Page and was originally performed by Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2000 as Skin.  Now on the big screen, it’s told through movement and dance, with minimal dialogue as it follows young Aboriginal man Djali from the outback to the gritty streets of Sydney. As Djali sees the problems faced by Aboriginal men in remote and urban communities, he sets off on a journey to understand what it means to be a man with ancient traditions in a modern world. A family affair, Stephen’s son Hunter Page-Lochard stars as Djali whilst the evocative score combining traditional and contemporary music is composed by Stephen’s brother David Page.

You can purchase or rent Spear on iTunes here

9. Sweet Country

A man and a woman stand on a hilltop, looking out into the distance

Inspired by real events, Warwick Thornton’s critically acclaimed Sweet Country is a period western set in the Northern Territory outback in 1929, where justice is put on trial. When Aboriginal stockman Sam (Hamilton Morris) is forced to kill a white station owner in self-defence, he goes on the run with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). Against a burnt ochre-red landscape, the film uncovers some ugly truths of Australia’s colonial past, as Sam and Lizzie are pursued across the outback by police, Aboriginal trackers and local landowners. Written by Steven McGregor and David Tranter, and starring Sam Neill, Bryan Brown and Ewen Leslie, Sweet Country won the prestigious Special Jury Prize at the 2017 Venice Festival alongside awards at Toronto and Adelaide Film Festival.

Watch the film on SBS On Demand here or Netflix here

And watch Warwick Thornton’s debut award–winning feature film Samson and Delilah on Stan here

10. Toomelah

Two children stand in front of a burnt out car. One has their arm around the other.

Drawn from writer-director Ivan Sen’s own experiences, Toomelah depicts life in a remote Aboriginal community through an intimate documentary-like account of 10-year-old Daniel, who’s immersed in a world of entrenched alcoholism, drug use and violence. After being suspended from school, Daniel yearns to be a ‘gangster’ and develops close friendships with the local drug dealers. He starts getting into fights, running drugs and fast losing his links to his Indigenous heritage. When Daniel suddenly finds himself in the middle of a turf war, he is confronted with a fork in the road that will determine his life path. Toomelah was part of the official selection in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes in 2011 and received a two-minute long standing ovation.

It’s available to watch on Netflix here

For more from Ivan Sen, you can also check out Mystery Road on Stan and Goldstone, which is on Stan as well as Netflix.

11. Total Control

Senator Alex Irving looking into the distance

Deborah Mailman stars in her first leading role as unlikely national hero Alex Irving who is catapulted into government as a Senator for Queensland. When she finds herself betrayed by the Prime Minister (played by Rachel Griffiths), she sets out on a path of redemption and revenge. Total Control shines a light on hot button issues including the incarceration of Indigenous Australians, land rights, and sexism in politics. Total Control had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 – the first Australian series to ever be selected for the prestigious festival, and also received accolades at home: the series won Best Drama at the AACTA Awards, while Mailman’s commanding on-screen presence as the straight-talking and feisty Alex saw her win the AACTA award for Best Lead Actress, and Rachel Griffiths took home the Best Supporting Actress.

Catch this must-watch political drama on ABC iview here