Stateless review: Predictable yet painful story of the illegal immigration crisis
Streaming on Netflix, Stateless is a devastating story of immigrants and the officers who control them
One can imagine why Cate Blanchett, one of the co-creators of Stateless, decided to just do a small role as a dance/self-help trainer in this new Netflix series. It could have been to let the story take centre stage and let the spotlight shine on the issue at hand rather than stealing the show with her incredible acting talent. And the issue here is the immigration crisis in Australia, where people from war-torn countries seek asylum in the hope of starting a new life. Stateless is essentially about Sofie Werner (Yvonne Strahovski), a character based on the real-life Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who was unlawfully detained in the government’s facility for illegal immigrants back in 2004.
Director: Emma Freeman
Creators: Cate Blanchett, Tony Ayres, Elise McCredie
Cast: Yvonne Strahovski, Asher Keddie, Fayssal Bazzi
The mini-series opens with Sofie running through the dry and scorching desert — a metaphor for what she does throughout the series. She is running away from herself. She lies about her identity. She claims to be a German named Eva Hoffman and wants to be deported back to her country. In a series of predictable flashbacks, we learn she is a flight attendant who is also an aspiring dancer and an active member of a self-help/dance group run by Gordon (Dominic West) and Pat (Cate Blanchett). It doesn’t take much to figure out what happened to Sofie in the cult-like group, but the makers’ focus here is to depict her denial and post-traumatic stress rather than creating suspense. However, the series is not just about Sofie. It also tells the story of three other characters from the Barton Detention Center; stories so hard-hitting that it is painful to watch.
We have the story of Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), an Afghan, who runs away from the Taliban with his wife and two daughters in the hope of finding a paradise in Australia. He has to come clean to secure himself a place in heaven but the truth will only deport him back to his country, where pain and suffering are all that await him. He is a good teacher and a man of faith, and he laments why people only want to know the mistakes he has made.
On the other side of the fence is another family man, Cam Sandford (Jai Courtney), a white Australian who takes up a job as a security officer in the detention centre to provide his family a good life. But his activist sister calls it ‘blood money’. His colleagues call him ‘soft’ as he starts developing bonds with the detainees. But these bonds are short-lived as Cam finds himself getting hardened by the system that forces him to be the oppressor.
Claire Kowitz (Asher Keddie), the new administrator of Barton’s immigration detention facility, finds herself in a similar predicament as Cam. Her job is to keep bad press away from the country’s detention facility, even at the cost of making things worse for the asylum seekers. She has to justify the force and measures against the immigrants by finding dirt on them and thus validating the oppression. She tells a questioning journalist, with whom she has this cliched romantic tension, “If you don’t like our immigration policy, then why don’t you propose an alternative? Well, that’s unless you believe in open borders.” But she is also the same person who takes a special interest in Ameer's daughter, Mina (Soraya Heidari ). Asher brings out this duality of Claire with her performance. She is infuriating and makes you want to spit on her as Rosna (Helana Sawires) does, but also makes you feel sorry for her.
Aside from such rewarding performances, however, Stateless doesn’t have anything surprising in store. It doesn’t tell a story that hasn’t been told before, and this sameness makes this six-part mini-series a bit too long. The story would have perhaps been better suited for a film. While it is easy to hold this predictability against the series, this is still a voice of dilemma and pain that questions why things are the way they are. And that's an important voice to have.