Stateless: everything you need to know about the “best new series on Netflix”

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Yvonne Strahovski’s timely tale seems poised to become Netflix’s next Unorthodox-style hit. 

Long before the coronavirus lockdown, Netflix ruled supreme. Now, as many Covid-19 restrictions are tentatively lifted across the UK, the streaming platform is working hard to give us a reason to stay indoors, pumping out a plethora of new films and TV shows.

Among them, of course, is Stateless. Branded “one of the best Australian dramas” in years,  the harrowing six-part series – co-created by Cate Blanchett – is inspired by the true story of Cornelia Rau, a woman who was found struggling in an Australian immigration detention centre. Despite being a permanent resident.

Here’s everything you need to know about the show.

What is Netflix’s Stateless about?

In a nutshell? Inspired by the true story of Cornelia Rau, the miniseries is all about four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention centre in the middle of the Australian desert. There’s Sofie (Yvonne Strahovski), the flight attendant on the run from a dangerous cult. There’s Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi), an Afghan refugee forced to make an impossible choice in order to save the life of his young daughter. There’s Cam Samford (Jai Courtney), a young father who signs up as a guard at the centre in order to escape his dead-end job. And there’s immigration boss Clare (Asher Keddie), who is quickly running out of time to contain a national scandal.

As the story progresses, however, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s far more to Stateless than meets the eye.

Who is Cornelia Rau, and how did she inspire Netflix’s Stateless?

In the very first episode of the series, Strahovski’s character quits her job as a flight attendant and signs up to a controversial dance-based sect called GOPA, run by husband-and-wife team Gordon (Dominic West) and Pat (Blanchett). 

Sofie spends months with GOPA, torching her relationships with her family and friends in the process. However, when the cult’s rapacious leaders intimidate and humiliate her in public, Sofie suffers a breakdown and goes on the run – only to wind up, weeks later, in immigration custody.

Much like Strahovski’s character in the series, Rau struggled with her mental health after falling in with Australia’s now-infamous Kenja sect. Spending time in and out of hospitals, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, then later schizophrenia. In March 2004, Rau snuck out of the psychiatric wing of Manly Hospital and disappeared, only to be apprehended by police officers days later. 

Rau – frightened of being tracked down by Kenja – told them her name was Anna Brotmeyer (and later Anna Schmidt), insisting that she had flown into the country from Germany. 

“I didn’t want to get involved with that group again,” she said, in a 2005 interview with 60 Minutes.

“It would have been known where I was and what I was doing and I just felt pretty vulnerable.”

Immigration officials failed to diagnose her schizophrenia, resulting in Rau being transferred to the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre. Without a lawyer, judge, jury or advocate. Without even her name. 

There, she was locked away in a compound, and only allowed out of her cell for four hours each day. 

Stateless on Netflix
Yvonne Strahovski as Sofie Werner in Stateless.

In January 2005, an article about Baxter’s “mystery woman” was published in The Age.

“Her unpredictable and bizarre behaviour, lack of communication, and distress continue to worry them. She exhibits psychotic symptoms, screaming and talking to herself at times, and screams in terror often for long periods especially when locked in the cell,” Pamela Curr, of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, noted in the piece.

“Such is her terror of being put back into this cell that it takes six guards in full riot gear to manhandle her back into the room and close the heavy door.”

The article was seen by Rau’s family, who quickly contacted the police and Baxter officials. She was released and, years down the line, received $2.6 million in compensation for wrongful detainment.

Her case also brought to light a number of wrongful detentions.

Stateless on Netflix
Anita Afshar, Setareh Naghoni, Amiralia Kianifar, and Phoenix Raei in Netflix’s Stateless.

What have Cornelia Rau’s family said about Netflix’s Stateless?

Noting that the imminent release of the series has been “challenging” for the family, Chris Rau writes for The Sydney Morning Herald that the TV show is “an important call to action.”

“Cornelia herself and many people involved in her plight were fully included and consulted,” Rau reassures viewers, praising the show’s “wonderful team of writers, actors, cinematographers and musicians.”

Despite this, Rau has called for people to respect Cornelia and the rest of the family’s privacy and “personal grief” at this time.

Is there a trailer for Netflix’s Stateless?

You can watch the trailer for Stateless below:

What are people saying about Netflix’s Stateless?

Stateless isn’t available to stream on Netflix until 8 July, but reviews have been largely positive.

Stateless is one of the best Australian dramas I have seen in a long time,” writes George Newhouse for The Conversation. “I hope it will restart the discussion about who we are as a nation and whether we are comfortable with the crimes against humanity being done in our name.”

EW’s Kristen Baldwin, meanwhile, has branded the show “stunning”, adding: “Stateless is a bit of a tough sit, for sure, but you’ll find it even tougher to turn away.”

And Daniel D’Addario, writing for Variety, notes that the show makes for “urgent viewing”.

“There’s a touch of Orange Is the New Black at work here, [as] Strahovski’s seemingly out-of-place blonde opens up the story for a subset of the audience less inclined to see her fellow prisoners as real people with struggles, as Taylor Schilling’s character did on her dramedy,” the review adds.

What have Cate Blanchett and Dominic West said about Netflix’s Stateless?

Speaking to Deadline, Blanchett explains: “The title of the series refers to statelessness in a more poetic sense, not in a legal, physical sense. It’s more about identity and the loss of people’s identity when they are faced with long-term detention, when they become a number, when they are dislocated from markers in their life like home and culture, and separated from their families.”

The actor and producer adds: “[The themes and issues discussed in Stateless are] profound and prevalent. Globally I get the sense of border protection, and those who are nationals, and nationhood. All governments are employing that rhetoric, but yet we’ve never had a higher number of displaced people who are fleeing incredible trauma. 

“We’re more connected and more disconnected than ever.”

Blanchett’s co-star, Dominic West, echoed her sentiments in a recent interview with the Radio Times.

“What’s so striking is how close we all are to this,” he said. “I haven’t experienced being stateless politically, but I’ve been without money – I’ve been homeless for a night in London and without money.”

West, who did not go into detail about his experience of being homeless, added: “It was astonishing how quickly you become invisible, and how quickly you become reviled and how quickly you realise that all you’ve got to appeal to anyone is a common humanity.

“And that’s just not having money, never mind being a refugee or escaping a regime.”

So, is Netflix’s Stateless worth the watch?

Please don’t write Stateless off as a worthy social issue piece: it is an entertaining, gripping drama, and – in this writer’s opinion – the sort of powerful true story that will sit with you long after the credits roll.  All characters are incredibly nuanced and well-written: there are no two-dimensional villains, there are no stereotypical heroes. All performances, too, are electrifying – particularly Strahovski’s quietly devastating portrayal of a woman who is struggling with her mental health. 

Yes, it is an incredibly hard watch. Yes, it will split your heart in two. Yes, it will make you feel uncomfortable. But you need to sit in that discomfort, because, while Baxter has long since closed, there are currently around 1,450 people locked up in immigration detention centres on the Australian mainland. 

The average length of stay at one is about 500 days, though some remain detained for years. And, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, conditions have worsened significantly: now, they are more like prisons. Hopefully, with the spotlight firmly on Netflix’s Stateless, one can only hope that more and more people begin adding their voices to the call for change

Because, as Chris Rau says, “a collective voice is stronger than you think.”

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Images: Netflix

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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