At the end of Stateless, you wonder to yourself, “Is there nothing Cate Blanchett can’t do brilliantly?” The multi-Oscar winner made her debut as a television producer with Stateless. She was also an executive producer and star on Mrs America. Alongside Elise McCredie and Tony Ayres, Blanchett created the Australian miniseries and also appears in a supporting role as Pat Masters, a singer-dancer who runs a cult-like self-help racket out of her dance school. Blanchett gets to show off her singing and dancing prowess and even belts out a really good version of Frank Sinatra’s ‘Let’s Get Away From It All‘. Stateless, partly based on real events, critically examines the country’s flawed detention centres through the stories of four characters.
It’s about four criss-crossing lives
Stateless is primarily about Australia’s compulsory detention system for immigrants without visas. It takes place in centres where asylum seekers are kept while their cases are processed. This well-made, well-acted series hinges on four people who wash up at the Barton Centre in the middle of the South Australian desert. One is an Afghan immigrant, Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) who dreams of a better life for his family in Australia. He is the only immigrant. The other three are white Australians, Clare Kowitz (Asher Keddie), the centre’s new immigration director; Cam Sandford (Jai Courtney), a local who takes on the relatively well-paying job of guard; and Sofie Werner (Yvonne Strahovski), a mentally troubled woman who’s involvement with Pat Masters’ cult lead, through a series of unfortunate events, to her being detained at the centre under the fake name of Eva Hoffman. The characters interact with each other at the centre. They are at times suspicious of each other but also empathetic. Sophie and Ameer both suffer hallucinogenic episodes that show how, though they’re different, their suffering is quite similar.
The story is based on a real-life incident
The disappearance of Sofie, an Australian citizen into the detention system is the meatiest story among the lot. It might seem odd that a critique on immigration policy is delivered through a white woman’s quandary. However, Sofie is based on an actual person, Cornelia Rau. The public’s shock over Rau’s imprisonment in a detention centre for ten months spurred an investigation into wrongful detention. Rau was an Australian citizen and people were aghast that an Australian ended up at a detention centre. Australia has some of the most draconian policies for dealing with refugees and migrants. All asylum seekers face mandatory and indefinite detention and there is no independent inquiry. The show calls all this out in many ways. There are the two Tamilian refugees who have taken shelter on the centre’s roof and refuse to come down till their demands are met. There is the permanent fixture who has been stuck there for decades, waiting to be granted a visa. The idealistic Kowitz, who came in wanting to make a difference finds herself becoming a ruthless, oppressive leader at Barton as the very power she strove to use for good starts to get to her head.
Sofie’s story is interesting not only because of her predicament but also because of what lead to it. Pat Masters and her predatory husband and business partner, Gordon (Dominic West) are involved. Some of the most interesting moments in Stateless occur in the first episode when Sofie is artfully drawn in and then brutally cast out by Pat and Gordon.
Engaging and dynamic performances by the cast
The acting is all top-notch. Bazzi as Ameer is especially impactful. His tragic story and poignant on-screen moments with his daughter Mina (Sorya Heidari) are contrasted with the humorous camaraderie he shares with fellow detainee Farid (Claude Jabbour). Keddie’s Clare is compassionate and willing to make a difference but also recognises that she’s up against a bureaucracy she can’t change much. Courtney is solid and dependable as Cam. However, it is Strahovski’s Sofie who steals the show.
WATCH OR NOT
Stateless combines top-notch storytelling with a fantastic cast. It’s a story that needs to be seen and experienced, more so in today’s times, as Australia’s refugee vilification has inspired anti-immigration advocates across the world, especially Brexit architect Nigel Farage.
Directors: Emma Freeman, Jocelyn Moorehouse
Creators: Cate Blanchett, Tony Ayres, Elise McCredie
Cast: Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney, Asher Keddie, Fayssal Bazzi, Dominic West, Cate Blanchett
Steaming on: Netflix