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Monday 8 April 2013

Indigenous TV making Aussie strides

And now for some good news ....

Television about, produced by, staring and worked on by Indigenous Australians is making serious headway in Australia. This has been marked by wins at last night's Logies, Australia's serious TV awards, for two productions.

The wonderful actress Deborah Mailman won her third Logie for 'Mabo', the story of Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo's long fight for Native Title, which culminated in the landmark 1992 decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius ("land belonging to nothing, no one"). Mailman played Eddie's wife Bonita, who joined Mailman in a tearful moment on stage as she accepted her award.

Redfern Now, the first ever contemporary drama series written, directed and produced by Aborigines and which Mailman also starred in won two Logies.

One of the producers, Darren Dale, said that the wins highlighted the work of Indigenous people in the television industry. He said:
I'm so happy to stand here on this stage, with great Indigenous writers, actors and blackfellas suddenly on prime time.

That is what makes Redfern such a great show, that finally at 8:30 at night on the public broadcaster on the ABC you see black faces, and I'm so proud of that.
The six-part 'Redfern Now' was set in the inner-Sydney suburb usually associated in the public's mind with deprivation and depression. The individual stories, produced by Indigenous production company Blackfella Films, introduced all Australians to a far more rich, real and nuanced community living in the 21st century metropolis.

Most of the cast, directors and many production staff are Indigenous with many of Australia's most famous Indigenous actors participating, including Mailman and Leah Purcell. Well-known English television writer Jimmy McGovern was story producer.

Said Mailman:
When you have Indigenous writers, directors and actors, it means you can be uncompromising and complex with your stories and characters because you're giving it insight that doesn't often come from outside a community. We hope people will come away from it with much more understanding and insight into who we are and into our stories.
Sally Riley, from the ABC, told The Guardian:
We take the audience to a place they've never been before. People are saying to me they didn't even know this world existed.

It's a landmark because for so long we have had other people telling our stories and the government telling us what we should be doing to help ourselves. This is a chance for us to comment on our own stuff, our own problems, our own issues.
The show was part of an ABC strategy to get more Indigenous storytelling into prime time and drew an average of three quarters of a million viewers. It has been commissioned for a second series.

In 2013 the ABC is planning more prime time Indigenous drama as well as a comedy series set in an Alice Springs radio station and a sketch comedy series.

The show came on the 20th anniversary of a famous speech by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. In it, Keating, for the first time, gave state acknowledgment to the wrongs done to Aboriginal people, famously saying "we poisoned the waterholes ... we took the traditional land … we brought the diseases and murders... we took the children from their mothers … how would I feel if this was done to me?"

That speech is now seen as setting the path towards the 'reconciliation' process which has since been embraced by both sides of Australian politics and most ordinary Australians.

'Reconciliation' is explored in one of the shows. In 'Stand Up' sixteen year old Joel wins an Indigenous scholarship to an elite private school. At his first day's assembly he's not singing the national anthem, breaking the rules.

Joel's dad doesn't want his son to sing, his mum doesn't want him to lose his opportunity. The school's principal is shown as torn between her history of support for 'reconciliation' vs her role as the guardian of school tradition. How the show ends demonstrates how 'reconciliation' works in the real world.

This episode highlights the increase in the number of Indigenous success stories which has come from the efforts of white people in Australian professional bodies and organizations. Other episodes tell the other side of the story, which is shown in persistent poverty amongst Indigenous communities as well as newly recognized problems such as sexual abuse and drugs.

'Redfern Now' shows can be watched in their entirety (at the time of writing) on this YouTube channel.

Watch a preview clip of the "Stand Up" episode and two clips from 'Mabo' after the jump:

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