If you’ve been following me on twitter and Instagram, then you know I’m really excited about the upcoming series out of Australia and New Zealand called Cleverman. Premiering to critical acclaim at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Cleverman, produced by the Australian Broadcasting corporation and distributed in the US by SundanceTV, is a story basically asks, “What if only Indigenous people had superpowers?” It’s a very interesting concept, with shades of the X-Men, District 9, Heroes and even the real life Tuskeegee Experiment. With a reported 80% aboringinal cast and a storyline rooted in indigenous mythology, I am definitely looking forward to this show’s debut.
The Cleverman series takes place in the near future and depicts an emergent minority in society known as “the Hairies” who have developed superpowers. Mainstream society, through the press and propaganda have become fearful of the “subhumans” as they are dubbed, and their powers, and the government quarantines most of them into an internment camp called The Zone. Those who refuse to go “peacefully” are captured and taken to horrible detention centers where they are experimented on. Koen West (played by Hunter Page-Lochard), is estranged from his brother Warru, (played by Rob Collins) who has been trained in the old ways. The brothers, not resembling the “Hairies” can assimilate and “pass” for normal humans, but Koen, it seems, has latent powers which reveal themselves and is destined to become the Cleverman. To make matters worse, there seems to be another threat, of the supernatural variety, out to get them.
The show clearly is shining a light on racism, terrorism, mob mentality and the concept of human rights regarding a group of people that are not considered quite human. Although as an African-American I can clearly identify with those concepts, what really takes this to another level is when you think about Australia’s colonial past and it’s treatment of the aborigines and the fact that the show’s writer and creator, Ryan Griffen is from an indigenous bloodline himself.
“I wanted to bring something Aboriginal, Indigenous, to that world. As the son of a light-skinned Aboriginal man and a light-skinned Aboriginal woman, it was important for me that my son had a cultural superhero that he could look up to as a young Aboriginal person … something he could connect to that was also entertaining.” – Ryan Griffen (via Zap2it)
The other thing I find fascinating about this storyline is that how the director respectfully involved indigenous actors in the creation of this story. (Pay attention Adam Sandler). Some 80% of the cast is of aboriginal descent. He is said to have gotten the permission from various elders to tell their “dreaming” stories. “Dreaming” is the closest word in the English language to what is basically a psychic state achieved through ancestor worship. During a “dreaming”, as I’ve come to understand it, everything from creation stories, healing methods, even supernatural visions of the future, telekinesis and alternate realities are explained and/or experienced.
Real life “clever men” (also known as karadji) historically have been a spiritually chosen member of an aboriginal society that have survived a psychic rite of passage so to speak and are imbued with magical powers that manifest differently per the individual. They were often labeled as shaman’s and healers and had the ability to communicate on the spiritual realm with ancestors and gods. (If I’ve lost you, think of Ang or Korra and the “Avatar state”) This is the spiritual world that Griffen’s Cleverman is based on and simmers just below the surface of a group of oppressed people, who are thrown up against a mainstream society who wants to either destroy them, exploit them or control them. But as usual, doesn’t know how desperately it needs them. I was really looking forward to a full 22 episode arc, however, Cleverman is only being distributed as a 6 part series. Hopefully, we can look forward to more programming like this by and for POC , indigenous and marginalized creators.
Also of note is the fact that the series feature both an indigenous director and a female director. Wayne Blair, director of the Australian box office hit The Sapphires and upcoming film Septembers of Shiraz, is lead director, with acclaimed director, writer, actress and performer Leah Purcell also directing. The series is produced by Goalpost Pictures Australia and New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures for ABC TV Australia in co-production with SundanceTV and Red Arrow International, with the assistance of Screen Australia, Screen NSW and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant. Red Arrow International distributes Cleverman worldwide.
Cleverman will launch in the United States on SundanceTV on Wednesday, June 1 at 10/9c, and in Australia on ABC and ABC iview on Thursday, June 2 at 9.30pm. Check yout local listings for channel information.