‘Stateless’: Stranger in a strange land
via Netflix

“Stateless,” the prize-winning Australian six-part Netflix television series, is more than its title advertises. Through its series of keenly written, superbly acted, emotionally taut dramatic encounters, the show uses the immigrant experience to raise broader social and political commentary.

The series focuses on four principal characters, each in conflict with the world around them. Yvonne Strahovski brilliantly sketches out her character Sofie Werner, an alienated flight attendant in search of meaning and self-worth. Sofie has been over-shadowed by her more confidant, satisfied bourgeois matron sister and her domineering parents.

Sofie spends the opening scenes barely enduring the holidays with her exacting parents who are trying to force her into a relationship with a bland accountant she loathes. She flees to a self-improvement cult where leaders Cate Blanchett and the evil Dominic West excruciatingly rob her of any vestiges of self-worth.

Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi) has fled persecution in his native Afghanistan. He seeks a safe family life and education for his young daughters. He pays all his savings to secure illegal passage for his wife and children to his dream of freedom in Australia. Although he has fallen in with a desperate crowd, he finds friends and hope. The hope is thwarted when his passage money is stolen and he ends up in the Immigrant Detention Center to which Sofie has been mistakenly confined.

Cam Sandford (Jai Courtney)’s dead end job cannot support his growing family.  On the brink of impoverishment, he takes a more secure government job as a guard at the Detention Center. The new job is a lifeline to keep his wife and kids economically afloat. His pride is dented. But his humanity isn’t. He bristles as he is called on to reinforce a brutal regimen on the immigrants, treating them as a lower form of life.

When the Center becomes the focus of investigative journalism and protests against harsh treatment, Claire Kowitz is called in to purge the kindlier older staff, cover-up problems, and institute an even harder line, including physical brutality and depravation. The fine veteran Australian actress Asher Keddie opens a window to Claire’s struggles to mediate the crushing effects of large bureaucracy.  Will she fall back into self-protective bureaucrat mode, hiding a potential national scandal or take the job risk of humane problem solver?

But “Stateless” is much more than the sum of its parts, the struggles of it’s four principals. . . even more than the expanded circles of the internment camp, populated by fascinating supporting actors. It’s a story of how society handles its constituent elements, people trying to fit into place, any and every place, where they can construct fruitful, meaningful lives. It’s the story of how we treat each other, both as individuals and in large organizations. Stateless is the story of how society fails and succeeds to meet the needs of the world’s citizens, not only it’s immigrants, but all of the short term inhabitants on our planet.

“Stateless” holds a mirror up to our organized society, questioning how we will react to the urgent tasks of our humanity. Will we attempt to be problem solvers? Or will we build walls instead of bridges, turning our back on our fellow immigrants, as if this will avert doom?

The series was inspired by the story of Cornelia Rau who was mistakenly and unlawfully detained under the Australian government’s mandatory detention program and other actual stories from Australian immigrant detention.

The program swept virtually almost every award at the 2021 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, including Best Series, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actor (Fayssal Bazzi), Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama (Yvonne Strahovski), Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, one the shows co-creators) and Best TV Direction.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.