Stateless review: Cate Blanchett's Netflix series sheds light on the unfair treatment of immigrants in Australia
Stateless is a worthy effort to underline the unfair means taken up by the Australian government to treat its immigrants
Cate Blanchett’s debut as a television producer needed to have a compelling subject at its core and Netflix’s new drama, Stateless, delivers. Charting the contentious history of Australia’s mandatory detention structure for immigrants without visas, the series sheds light on the scenario that asylum seekers need to face while waiting for their cases to get processed.
Stateless is a worthy effort to underline the unfair means taken up by a government to treat its immigrants. With equal proportions wry humour and disturbing backstories, the Netflix series moves forward with a four-pronged narrative – each about a displaced soul who ends up at the detention centre.
Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) is an Afghan citizen who comes in search of shelter; Clare (Asher Keddie), is an Australian woman appointed as the centre’s new director; Cam (Jai Courtney), takes up the job as one of the guards in hope of its monetary benefits for his loving family and Sofie (Yvonne Strahovski) is an Australian citizen who ends up in the centre after a series of mishaps which force her to lie about her nationality.
Leading the cast is Blanchett as Pam, the head of a cult that masks itself under the garb of a dance school. She gets a window to showcase her talents towards the performing arts, but for a criminally short period. Dominic West, who plays her husband Gordon, shines equally in his cameo-length role.
Inspired by true events surrounding Cornelia Rau, an Australian citizen whose 10-month unlawful detention in her own country’s camp brought out the racquet under public eye, Stateless reveals the sorry state of affairs that haunt immigrants while staying in the camps.
The six-episode run is a worthy watch, well-performed, well-made and even well-intentioned. But, by placing a large section of the narrative on the shoulders of Sofie, a white, privileged-by-birth character, Stateless does compromise its aim to confront the bureaucratic paralysis faced by displaced detainees across the world.
Bazzi’s portrayal of Ameer, an Afghan tricked on his way into the country, in a desperate search for his estranged family, is the most authentic in the show. A worthy attempt at showcasing the fate of immigrants of colour, Bazzi is quick to assess the nerve of his character and is enthralling in his haplessness. Having said that, the show cannot be exempted from leaning on the go-to trope that many international shows/films having South Asian characters use -- Ameer and his family members speak in halted English, almost as if they are visually tracing the words in their minds before uttering them.
Cam’s storyline serves as an interesting contrast to the abject negativity around him. His need to bring in “serious change” with dollops of idealistic theories comes crashing down when he sees the workings of the detention centre up-close and personal. Jovial and laidback, Cam is forced to choose between what he knows is “right” as opposed to what he is instructed to do.
Clare, too, brings in her share of optimism while enrolling as the camp’s immigration director. She struggles to discipline the inmates at first, rushing towards a group of Tamil refugees protesting on a rooftop. But gradually, her problems take a more serious turn. She tries her level best to keep the detainees away from the hard facts that she knows threaten to mar their already-dreary future.
Amidst all of this is Sofie, the show’s almost-protagonist. Her protests within the camp and her movement to demand freedom, somehow always comes under the shadow of Blanchett’s Pam. Though the show may have intended otherwise, Sofie served just as a narrative parallel to Ameer. Her acute need to desert her family against Ameer’s fight to reunite with his; her submission to delusions as opposed to his endeavours to retain his sanity; her birth privilege to his second-class citizenship – make the disparity even more obvious.
Where Stateless scores completely is its portrayal of its antagonists – in that, none is portrayed as one. Harrowed by the mechanical structures that supersede their noble intentions, each character, whether the strugglers or enablers, runs in circles within a vicious cycle that refuses to give way for change. Noone is ‘evil’, just a wonderfully realistic mix of emotional and problematic.
Stateless presents the scenario at hand but is realistic in not providing any lofty, sermonising solutions. It’s self-aware in its goal that way. If only, it could have averted using a white narrative mouthpiece to highlight an issue largely faced by people of colour.
Stateless is currently streaming on Netflix.
(All images from Twitter)
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