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Aboriginal Superhero Makes Australian TV Debut

  • Phil Mercer

FILE - An Aboriginee is seen spear fishing in Australia's Northern Territory.

FILE - An Aboriginee is seen spear fishing in Australia's Northern Territory.

Australia has its first Indigenous superhero. Cleverman, a fantasy drama that has had its premiere on Australian television, blends Aboriginal mythology with modern superhuman style and cutting political commentary on racism and identity. It is set in a near-future Australia where ancient creatures have re-emerged.

“The international community has accused us of violating human rights but these creatures are not human. We do not share the same DNA. We do not know exactly what they are. It has only reaffirmed this government’s commitment to keep these sub-humans within the zone.”

The "Hairypeople" are a mythological species struggling to coexist alongside humans, and are forced to live in a sealed-off ghetto. The writers of Cleverman have drawn on the deepest legends and traditions of Aboriginal Australia to create this science-fiction conspiracy thriller.

Its main character is Koen, a young Indigenous man who inherits superhuman powers and fights against terrifying enemies - humans and other worldly spirits. Running through this six-part drama are themes of exclusion, discrimination and identity, real-life issues that lie at the heart of modern Indigenous Australia.

The show is created by Ryan Griffen, a former TV producer who wanted to bring to the screen a superhero based on the Aboriginal concept of creation, known as the Dreaming, that would make his son proud of his First Nation heritage.

Griffen says the "Cleverman" has great mystical powers.

“In a way he is the conduit between the Dreaming and the realities, so he is quite a spiritual man," he said. "I often, sort of, simply describe it as like a Pope of the Dreamtime. He is someone who is appointed to be the guidance of spirituality within country. Each country has a different type of Cleverman and often has different roles to lead but essentially it is a teacher or someone to help understand spirituality.”

Eighty percent of the cast of Cleverman is Indigenous. The show is a co-production with Sundance TV in the United States and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It will also be shown on British television.

Aborigines make up about three percent of the Australian population but their representation on mainstream television has been limited. The nation’s first inhabitants also suffer disproportionately high rates of ill-health, unemployment and imprisonment.