As well as donating to grassroots projects and buying products from First Nation’s owned businesses, another great way to educate yourself and support Australia's Indigenous culture is in the form of shows and movies.
Fortunately Netflix has dropped a slew of amazing, binge-worthy watches that celebrate First Nations actors and stories.
Grab the popcorn (and tissues) and get viewing.
Directed by the uber-talented Ivan Sen, a Gamilaroi man, Beneath Clouds was a breakout feature film for him… and for good reason—it’s seriously good. Following a young Indigenous girl Lena (who’s blonde and light-skinned and in denial of her heritage) and a newly escaped prisoner Vaughn who’s desperate to see his dying mother, this movie throws the two alienated characters together forcing them on a tumultuous emotional and physical journey.
Bran Nue Dae
Taking place in Western Australia in the late 60s, Bran Nue Dae follows Aboriginal teen Willie Johnson who after running away from his Catholic boarding school (with his headmaster in hot pursuit), tries to hitch his way back to his hometown of Broome to win over the girl of his dreams Rosie (Jessica Mauboy). Along the way he gets help from a bunch of hilarious characters like his Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo), hippies, 'Slippery' the German (Tom Budge) and Annie (Missy Higgins), and 'Roadhouse Betty' (Magda Szubanski).
In My Blood It Runs
Shot in the Northern Territory over three-and-a-half years, In My Blood It Runs follows 10-year-old Dujuan, a cheeky and charismatic Arrernte boy. Told through his eyes, the audience gets an intimate look at how the education system is failing Aboriginal youth. In the doco, we watch as Dujuan, who is a child-healer and speaks three languages, is expelled from his school and travels perilously close to incarceration. Over the course of the film, Dujuan grapples with the pressure to balance both his western and Arrernte education, but somewhere in-between finds space to dream and hope for a bright future.
Another beauty from Ivan Sen, Toomelah received a two-minute long standing ovation when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2011. It follows 10-year-old Daniel who lives in Toomelah, NSW. When he’s suspended from school, he starts helping local drug dealer Linden, in the hopes of joining his crew. But when Bruce, one of Linden’s rivals is released from prison a turf war erupts with Daniel in the middle. Meanwhile Daniel is also struggling with his mum’s addictions, his absent father and the return of his aunty who was part of the Stolen Generation.
Put this epic series straight to the top of your must watch list—we devoured it in a single sitting. Based on the extraordinary life of Boori Monty Pryor, Wrong Kind Of Black will make you laugh and then cry your eyes out. Flipping between the 60s—it shows Pryor growing up with his tight knit family in Palm Island—to the glittering 70s in Melbourne where he worked as one of the hottest DJs. But despite his success, Pyror is constantly told he’s the “wrong kind of black” and the ripple effect has a devastating impact on his family. Tip: keep the tissues close for the final two eps.
This movie is another absolute stunner of cinematic gold from director Warwick Thornton, a proud Kaytetye man. Set in the late 1920s in the Northern Territory outback, Sweet Country is based on a series of shocking true events that took place between the European settlers and First Nations people in the interwar period in Australia. In particular, it follows Sam Kelly (played by Warlpiri man, Hamilton Morris), a farm worker who goes on the run with his wife Lizzie (Arrente woman Natassia Gorey-Furber) after they were subjected to a series of horrific events at the hands of a brutal, alcoholic World War One veteran Harry March (Ewen Leslie). Yes, it will rip your heart out but it’s an incredibly important watch to educate yourself on Australia’s often untold history.
For an upbeat and high-energy movie, you need to sit yourself down and lap up all the talent in Butchulla man Wayne Blair’s, The Sapphires which had its world premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Set in the late 60s, the flick follows four Yorta Yorta women—Gail, Julie, Kay and Cynthia—who, after being discovered by a talent scout, take their all-girl singing group to entertain US troops during the Vietnam War. Loosely based on a true story, it’s packed with incredible songs, LOLs and a touching storyline. This one also boasts an all-star cast including the iconic Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell and Chris O’Dowd.
This incredible flick by Brendan Fletcher premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and is an absolute must-watch. Featuring the stunning backdrop of rural Australia as its set, as well as ukulele and mandolin melodies, this movie will give you goosebumps. It follows the story of TJ (played by Nyoongar man Dean Daley-Jones), a hard-edged man who sick of city life, travels to the tiny frontier town of Five Rivers in search of his son Bullet. But upon his arrival, TJ is confronted by the equally tough local cop, Texas and so begins a story about hard men battling to do the right thing by their family.
This heartwarming story will hit you right in the feels. It follows 12-year-old Pete (Cameron Wallaby) who lives in a rundown drive-in theatre, in a remote area of the Kimberly region, with his grandfather Jagamarra (played by the incredible David Gulpilil). While Pete has big dreams to one day open a restaurant there, he faces the fight of his life when a local mining company claims the land, and plans to build a storage facility on the property. Joined by his mate Kalmain, who is on the run from the police, the duo make tracks to the city in an attempt to appeal to the company officials. But when the boys get lost, Pete calls on all of the advice he’s learnt from grandfather to get them safely to their destination.
This ground-breaking documentary needs to be seen by all. Released just earlier this year, Our Law follows two Noongar police officers, Senior Sergeant Revis Ryder and Sergeant Wendy Kelly, as they police one of the most remote areas in the world, Warakurna, which is home to an Indigenous community still practicing traditional lore. The duo learn Yarnangu lore and culture and master the local Ngaanyatjarra language, in an attempt to gain trust and replace the historical black and white law enforcement approach of the past. This powerful 26-minute doco gained worldwide attention and acclaim when it had its world premiere at the virtual edition of Sydney Film Festival 2020. So add it to your list stat!
Set in the Australian outback, this fast-paced action flick is a standalone sequel to Ivan San’s equally epic breakthrough movie Mystery Road—although you don’t have to watch this first, we recommend you do because it’s brilliant. Once again it follows Detective Jay Swan played by the supremely talented Aaron Pedersen, a proud Arrernte and Arabana man. This time around the detective is working on a missing persons case of a Chinese woman, but everything goes sideways when he unearths a trafficking ring up north and runs afoul of political-industrial interests. Sounds juicy right? It is. Watch it here.
Top End Wedding
We devoured this feel-good flick at the cinemas last year, so we’re stoked to have it for our streaming pleasure on Netflix. The film follows diligent lawyer Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) who after her fiancée Ned proposes to her, decides to plan their wedding in just 10 days—to ensure she can make it back to Melbourne in time for a big case she’s working on. But when the duo arrives in Lauren’s hometown of Darwin to wed, they find her mum (Ursula Yovich) has ditched her dad and is nowhere to be found. What follows is a moving journey of self-discovery as Lauren retraces her mum’s footsteps from the top end to the Tiwi Islands. The scenery in this flick alone makes it a must-watch but it’s the storyline and heart-warming characters that make it a real winner.
Got Stan? Check out these incredible First Nations movies.
Image Credit: Satellite Films