‘STATELESS’ is a 6-episode miniseries on Netflix produced by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett who also appears in it playing a supporting role. It is an intimate look at the problem of immigrants coming from different wartorn countries who try to get into Australia illegally. But it’s also an unblinking dissection of the Australian immigration system in the face of a serious worldwide human rights crisis concerning what they call UNC’s (unlawful non-citizens.)
The series is partly inspired by the true story of Cornelia Rau, a former flight attendant who is imprisoned in an Australian immigration detention center for ten months. It sparked national outrage as how did a white young woman, a bonafide resident, end up being detained in her own country for such a long time?
In the series, her name is Sofie (played by Yvonne Strahovski, who’s very good as the conflicted wife in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, which would have been better off if she played the lead role), a lonely young woman who’s alienated from her parents and sister. In the hope of improving her life, she joins a dance studio that is more like a cult, headed by a creepy couple, Gordon ( Dominic West) and his wife, Pat (Cate Blanchett, who gets to do a big song-and-dance number here).
She’s obviously mentally-ill and when the manipulative West molests her, she melts down during a musical performance and ends up in the detention center pretending to be a German citizen who’s arrested for staying illegally in Australia. Aside from her, there are three other main characters in the series.
These are Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), Cameron (Jai Courtney, who has done movies in Hollywood like “Terminator Genisys”, “Divergent” and “Suicide Squad”), and Claire (Asher Keddie). They all meet each other and their stories intertwine inside the detention center.
Ameer is a refugee from the Taliban in Afghanistan who wants to seek political asylum with his wife and two daughters. On their way to Australia, Ameer is separated away from his family and he learns later that his wife and youngest daughter drowned at sea.
Cameron is a devoted husband and father to three kids who applies for a better paying job as a security guard at the detention center, despite objection of his activist sister who holds protest rallies against the center. Claire is a government official who has just been promoted to be the new head of the detention center and immediately faces a host of seemingly insurmountable problems.
Some folks may not like its very earnest tone but there’s no denying the series has something significant to say about the unfair treatment of the refugees and the injustice they experience because of poorly trained officials and personnel, some of whom may have good intentions but have to make choices in doing what they think is the right thing.
Of all the four main stories, that of Ameer is the most affecting as he stands for all the other detainees in the center. We see some of them briefly, but the series also wants to show the side of the white guards and bureaucrats and the problems they face at the center to give a balanced picture.
Somehow, you feel that the show’s investment in Sofie is somewhat overblown as the stories of the other refugees actually seem more interesting than hers. She’s given much more importance when she’s just an insecure child who’s envious of her older sister who’s much more successful than her so their mom prefers her sister over her. This detracts from the show’s aspirations to be a committed socio-political drama.
In fairness to Strahovski, she’s stunning in her role, exhibiting full confidence in one scene, shifting to childlike insecurity and unmistakable paranoia in the next. Also good are Faysaal Bazzi who’s heartbreaking as the Afghan refugee who will do all sorts of sacrifice for his family, Jai Courtney as a working-class dad who starts as a bleeding heart with so much compassion but later becomes quite callous like the other guards, and Asher Keddie who is initially full of hope and energy as the new operations administrator but is later worn out by her humongous responsibilities and the dehumanizing treatment given to the refugees.
There are other Asian actors who play the other refugees whose stories are mere brief sketches in the show, but they all manage to be sympathetic, thanks for a uniformly competent ensemble. Australia is not the only country with immigration problems. As the epilogue says, over 70 million people are now seeking sanctuary from war and persecution in their respective homelands, with half of them being children.