The Australian TV Show, Cleverman debuted just over 2 weeks ago and is now into it’s second episode. As the first high profile SciFi TV production to be centred on Aboriginal Australians and their culture (80% of the cast are Indigenous Australians), Cleverman is breaking new ground when it comes to diversity in the superhero genre. While overall buzz and discourse could be better at least people are actually talking about the show, the question is, what exactly are they saying?
To give some background Cleverman is a show inspired by traditional Aboriginal culture and folklore. The story is set in a world where a new human like species colloquially known as ‘the Hairies’ have been recently discovered. This leads to massive social unrest and the Hairies are segregated into special administrative zones that resemble detention centres and refugee camps. The six-part series places the concept Aboriginal Dreaming in a modern, superhero context while exploring social issues such as racism, asylum seekers and border protection.
Back to the question at hand, having read through hundreds of critic and user reviews, as well as comments on social media, it seems that overall people either seem to love or hate Cleverman. On the one hand, viewers and critics have praised the shows masterful re-imagining of Aboriginal culture in an urban setting ,while also tackling many of the deep seeded social issues plaguing not only Australia but the world in general. On the other hand, many critics have accused the show for being cliche, ‘on the nose’ and poorly produced. Of course no one likes bad reviews but the silver lining, at least from the perspective of the show’s creators, is that whether positive or negative this story is eliciting emotion.
As someone who has enjoyed Cleverman, thus far I definitely think it’s worth watching particularly if you’re a fan of superheroes, scifi or fantasy. While the show received many scathing reviews the vast majority of these were difficult to read as they seemed overly negative and hateful. Nevertheless, there we’re a couple of recurring points highlighted by critics that seemed to hold some merit.
- Clevarman is Cliche: The show is very reminiscent of it’s mainstream predecessors (Heroes, X-men, etc) so in a sense we have seen this story told before. However, the uniqueness of Cleveman is how it explores this narrative from a completely different cultural perspective. Yes we’ve seen stories about superheroes, segregated non-humans and chosen ones but have we seen it from the perspective of Aboriginal Australians?
- ‘On the Nose’ Portrayal of Racism and Segregation: Critics argued that racism in modern society has become more subtle and insidious since the days of apartheid South Africa and America pre Civil Rights Movement. As an outsider it’s difficult to say what the current situation in Australia is like but it does seem like racism is still deeply embedded within the society. Regardless of the current situation we know the history, the Aboriginal Australians were treated like ‘subhumans.’ Even if things have moved along since then why should it be a problem to reexamine that history in a modern setting? Furthermore, we only need to look at the refugee crisis in Europe to see that the society presented in Cleverman, is not so different from the world we currently live in.
- Weak Female Characters: The female characters on the show have either played relatively minor roles of have been somewhat stereotypical. However, early signs seem to suggest that a couple of female characters on the show may still have a big role to play and with only two episodes in, it is simply to early to judge.
If you’re still debating whether or not to watch Cleverman, I should point out that had I chosen to list out the positive things people have said about this show this article would have been at least three times longer. Nevertheless most people that have watched Cleverman have found it entertaining and are keen to see what’s coming next. The show has rightfully been lauded because for once we have an opportunity to see Indigenous Australians as heroes. Not black and white heroes but complex charters with serious flaws. I may change my mind once all six episodes of Cleverman have aired but for the time being I am extremely pleased to hear that the show has been renewed for a second season. Episode three comes out on the 15th of June and can be streamed on Sundance TV.