Aboriginal films, movies, documentaries and series

Find films by First Nations directors or about First Nations themes to buy or stream.

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Where can you buy or watch an Aboriginal film?

To watch films about First Nations culture for free you can check out free-to-air TV stations such as SBS or ABC.

SBS offers films via its Aboriginal channel NITV (National Indigenous Television). Check out NITV's on demand channel.

ABC's on-demand channel is iView. It has an Aboriginal collection and a category for Aboriginal documentaries.

Buying a film

Can't find a film? Check out my supplier list and tips on how to find Aboriginal films.

If you have heard of a movie not listed here, please contact me.

Cinema is performance, that's how us blackfellas have connected with it. It's where we come from, with our storytelling. A lot of dreaming stories are about moral stories and news and teaching... that's the way Indigenous filmmakers are thinking.

— Warwick Thornton, First Nations director

Selected statistics

Box office result of 'Bran Nue Dae' in July 2010, which is the second best of the past 12 months.
Box office result of 'Samson And Delilah' in July 2010, which puts the movie in sixth place.
Number of documentaries in the 1980s with Aboriginal credits.
The same number for 2000 - 2010.
Number of Aboriginal actors on Australian TV in 1999; in 1992: 0.
Number of Aboriginal directors (2011–2015); producers: 5; writers: 13.
Proportion of First Nations main characters in TV dramas (2016-2021); same figure for 2011-2015: 4.8%
Proportion of TV programs between 2011 and 2015 that had no Aboriginal main characters.
Proportion of characters on TV (2011–2015) which the writer intended to be Aboriginal, but was cast with an actor of a different background.
Number of TV viewers who watched 'Bran Nue Dae'. Same number for 'Australia': 0.978 million.
Number of Aboriginal filmmakers taking key roles on 458 documentaries between 2000 and 2019, compared to 26 filmmakers on 24 titles in the 1980s.
Percentage of Aboriginal main characters in "sustaining roles" in Australian TV 2011–2015.
Number of feature films/TV dramas with an Aboriginal Australian in a key role in the 1970s.
The same numbers for 2000 - 2010.
Number of shorts directed by an Aboriginal director in the 1990s. Same figure for 2000s: 355.
The same numbers for 2000 - 2010.
Number of videos the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies needs to digitise before 2025 or their content will be lost.
Number of audiotape reels directly related to film material the Institute needs to preserve.
Number of feature films made between 1970 and 2019 with an Aboriginal director, producer, writer or DOP. (Produced in the '00s: 25; in the '90s: 5, in the '80s: 2, in the '70s: none.)
Number of Aboriginal individuals who worked on those 32 features; 11 as director, 14 as writer, 5 as producer and 5 as DOP.
Number of Aboriginal filmmakers who held key creative roles on 67 TV drama programs between 1980 and 2019. (Of these 67 titles, 61 were made since 2000, 6 in the '90s and none in the '80s.)
Number of titles produced by Screen Australia's Indigenous department in 25 years.
Money Screen Australia spent in 2020 for Aboriginal productions.
Chart showing how the number of Aboriginal credits has grown from zero in the 1970s to dozens or hundreds in the 2000s.
The graphs shows how film titles with Aboriginal film makers in key production roles has grown from a very low base in the 1970s and 1980s to dozens (features and TV drama) and hundreds (documentaries and shorts). Data: Screen Australia

How can Aboriginal films support teaching?

The Aboriginal film industry has come a long way—Aboriginal directors shoot films with both traditional and contemporary content, and non-Aboriginal directors leave behind common stereotypes and realise the diversity of Aboriginal topics they can use for their movies.

Students and teachers can benefit from this rich array of films. You can use movies of the 1960s and 1970s to teach about blackface and why no Aboriginal actors were used, as well as stereotypes or racist legislation such as the White Australia policy. There are plenty of documentaries that can support teaching Aboriginal studies.

If time is short, the many Aboriginal shorts can be used. They can be humorous, stern, informative or highly critical and political. Many come as a set on DVD compilations, for example Bit of Black Business.

Aboriginal films also allow to investigate how different - or alike - Aboriginal directors and non-Aboriginal directors cover topics.

With quite a few films freely available on YouTube they can become part of assignments and student essays, or even part of an online test:

  • Should Aboriginal stories only be told by Aboriginal writers and film makers?
  • What are some of the social and political reasons for why it has taken so long for positive Aboriginal films to be made in Australia?
  • How has Aboriginal representation changed in films over time?
  • What are some of the core political messages and demands found in films by Aboriginal writers and directors?
  • What are some of the Aboriginal issues, inherent in Australian society, that are yet to be told on film?

Study guides

Take advantage of the study guides that accompany many films. The following companies offer teacher's notes or study guides for download on their websites:

Aboriginal film festivals offer opportunities to watch contemporary works and engage with actors and directors in Q&A sessions. It allows students to get up and close and ask the questions they have prepared prior to visiting the festival.

Periods of Aboriginal film

Aboriginal film has changed significantly over the last 100 years. Here are the rough main periods :

Uncivilised (1930s-1950s)

This period focuses on the conflict between white settlers and Aboriginal people who are portrayed as 'black devils', violent, uncivilised, murderers and an inferior race. Aboriginal Australians on film are often played by non-Aboriginal people in blackface.

Examples: Uncivilised (Chauvel 1936), Bitter Springs (Smart 1950), Jedda (Chauvel 1955).

Mysterious and misunderstood (1970s)

Aboriginal characters start playing a greater role in films. Films present them as helpful, kind and knowledge-keepers of the land. But they appear separated from both non-Aboriginal actors and audience, and presented as mysterious and misunderstood.

During this period the first films appear shot by Aboriginal directors (who are often young and fiery activists), discussing social and political Aboriginal issues.

Examples: Walkabout (Roeg 1971), Ningla A-Na (Cavadini 1972), Blackfire (McGuiness 1972), Stormboy (Safran 1976), Backroads (Noyce 1977), My Survival as an Aboriginal (Coffey 1979).

White Australia's black history (1980s)

In the 1980s the Australian public - and with them non-Aboriginal directors - started to wake up to the fact that Aboriginal history since white settlement was more complicated and shocking than they had acknowledged: Stolen land, stolen wages, stolen children, massacres, deliberate poisoning, abuse and discrimination in all forms.

During the early 1980s Aboriginal directors started to emerge who made films about their own culture and issues.

Examples: Lousy Little Sixpence (Morgan 1982), We Fight (Moffat 1982), Crocodile Dundee (Cornell 1985), Always Was, Always Will Be (McGrady 1987), Australia Daze (Fiske 1988).

Terra Populus (1990s)

The struggle of Torres Strait Islander Eddie Mabo to have his rights to ancestral land recognised, and the subsequent 1992 Mabo ruling of the High Court exposed the myth of 'terra nullius', and recognised the rights of Aboriginal people to land. The Mabo Case influenced the portrayal of land in many films that followed. Other films assert the impact of activists on government policy and the Australian public's perception of Aboriginal issues.

Brian Syron becomes Australia's first Aboriginal feature film director, and Screen Australia adds an Indigenous department which supports the first wave of Aboriginal filmmakers.

Examples: Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (Moffat 1990), Jindalee Lady (Syron 1992), Tent Embassy (Peters-Little 1992), Vacant Possession (Nash 1994), The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Elliot 1994), Mabo: Life of an Island Man (Graham 1997), Radiance (Perkins 1998).

Reconciliation efforts (2000s)

Mainstream television, notably ABC and SBS, broadcast or help produce more films that address Aboriginal issues and experiences and what it means to be Aboriginal in contemporary Australia. Some have become classics of this time.

It is also a time where films start laying bare Australia's racist past and the abuse of Aboriginal people, making audiences identify with Aboriginal characters, even if this meant siding against the white characters.

The false truism that 'Aboriginal stories don't sell' is no longer valid.

Aboriginal directors use film and television to document their cultures, promote social change and to entertain.

Examples: Land Of The Little Kings (Kootji Rayond 2000), Yolngu Boy (Johnson 2000), Australian Rules (Goldman 2002), The Tracker (de Heer 2002), Beneath Clouds (Sen 2002), Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce 2002), Ten Canoes (de Heer 2006), Samson and Delilah (Thornton 2009), Bran Nue Dae (Perkins 2009).

Long-form Aboriginal projects (2010s)

While non-Aboriginal filmmakers directed many of the previous movies, Aboriginal filmmakers in the 2010s successfully created not only shorts and documentaries, but also comedies, long-form drama projects and films, and films with multiple episodes.

It is a new era in film and TV for Aboriginal people, including the National Indigenous Television service that reaches mainstream Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal audiences. Aboriginal stories are finally accepted and told from a First Nations perspective. Projects attract non-Aboriginal actors and crew. The share of First Nations main characters in TV dramas grows by half from 2016-2021 compared to 2011-2015.

Examples: Bran Nue Dae (Perkins 2010), Redfern Now (Purcell, McKenzie, Perkins, Blair 2012), Mystery Road (Perkins 2013), Cleverman (Blair, Purcell 2016), Sweet Country (Thornton 2017), Total Control (Perkins 2019).

Aboriginal film festivals

Check out the following pages to find the program of the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festivals which were held in Sydney between 2007 and 2013:

2013 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

2012 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

2011 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

2010 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

2009 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

2008 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

2007 Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival program

A lot of whitefellas in the press put shit on Aboriginal communities. That's one of the reasons why I make films.

— Adrian Wills, Aboriginal director

From traditional dreamtime tales to the challenges of contemporary Indigenous life, our film-makers give an insiders' view of what it means to be a Black Australian in the 21st century.

— Rachel Perkins, Aboriginal director

We’re not trying to educate people; we’re just trying to give them access to a life that they might not have ever seen before. That for me, is the beauty of what we do as filmmakers; that special thing of showing people a different world, and helping them one screening at a time.

— Warwick Thornton, Aboriginal director

Movies listed for research

Many more films are out there. I've created a list of movies waiting for research where you might find a film not listed here.

Fact: The original versions of more than 90% of all Australian films made during the pre-1930 silent era are missing.

We've had plenty of so-called Aboriginal content created by non-Aboriginal producers, writers and directors. But the issue of Aboriginal control is paramount. Now is the time to invest in genuine Aboriginal screen culture as the unique film sector of tomorrow.

— Michael Coughlan, director of an Aboriginal film skills training company

Aboriginal actors are keen, but don't want stereotypical roles

"People have to start from somewhere and you would be surprised how many Aboriginal people have a desire to be on the screen and give it a go," says Aboriginal director Beck Cole. "If people keep casting the same people over and over again, we're not going to build up that body of skills and people to draw on."

Only a minority of TV programs cast Aboriginal characters between 2011 and 2015. Most of them (83%) had no Aboriginal main characters. If they do, their character's occupations are proportionally more ‘leaders’ (6%) than the other cultural groups and have the highest proportion of criminal (12%) and cultural or sporting roles (10%). Unfortunately they also have the highest proportion of undefined roles (22%), that is roles that are primarily defined by their relationships to other characters rather than their occupations.

Among Aboriginal actors there is an element of fatigue about stereotypical casting. "There was a period when I stopped caring about acting," admits Wongutha and Yamatji man Meyne Wyatt who became the first Aboriginal actor on the show Neighbours. "The industry was only offering run-of-the-mill roles – it was always the tracker, the angry young man. I was like, 'I've done that, man. Boring.' I was disenfranchised with the industry and I was just upset with the world, really."

Aboriginal actors accounted for 5% of all main or recurring characters in surveyed TV programs between 2011 and 2015 , double the proportion of the Aboriginal population counted in the 2011 Census. But this is not because mainstream TV casts more Aboriginal actors.

Most of the Aboriginal characters appeared in only 8 programs – 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, Black Comedy, Gods of Wheat Street, Ready For This, The Straits and two series plus the telemovie of Redfern Now. All of these were made by Aboriginal directors for just one station (ABC). This wouldn't have been possible without funding support.


Aboriginal actor Steve Dodd played a blind man in the movie The Matrix.

The blossoming of new Indigenous-led TV dramas in recent years has created opportunities for many more Indigenous stories and faces to grace our screens.

— Screen Australia survey 2016


View article sources (0)

[1] 'Shot from the heart', Deadly Vibe 147, 5/2009 p.5
[2] SMH, 17/7/2010
[3] The Black List: Film and TV projects since 1970 with Indigenous Australians in key creative roles
[4] 'Seeing ourselves Reflections on diversity in Australian TV drama', Screen Australia survey, 2016
[5] 'Networks hit movies', MX News 2/5/2011 p.2
[6] 'Filmmakers celebrated', Koori Mail 486 p.19
[7] 'Samson and Delilah-Director's cut', Reconciliation News 8/2009 p.7
[8] ‘Indigenous film’, Australian government 22/7/2008, http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/indigenous-film, retrieved 28/9/2015
[9] 'Tears, laughs and plenty more', Koori Mail 476 p.28
[10] 'Networks hit movies', MX News 2/5/2011 p.2
[11] 'Samson and Delilah-Director's cut', Reconciliation News 8/2009 p.7
[12] 'Film strategy', Koori Mail 487 p.40
[13] ‘Cole’s debut feature film a part of Message Sticks’, Koori Mail 499 p.6
[14] 'Indigenous Production – Features, drama and documentaries from Indigenous filmmakers', Screen Australia 31/3/2019
[15] 'At last, the work of Australia's Indigenous filmmakers is paying off', SMH 6/8/2018
[16] 'Drama Report 2019/20 Shows Impact of Pandemic on Screen Industry', Screen Australia 25/11/2020
[17] 'Power generation: emerging Indigenous leaders on overcoming adversity – and their next steps', SMH Good Weekend 27/11/2020
[18] 'Seeing Ourselves 2 - Diversity, equity and inclusion in Australian TV drama, April 2023', Screen Australia 2023, available at www.screenaustralia.gov.au/fact-finders/reports-and-key-issues/reports-and-discussion-papers/seeing-ourselves-2

Cite this page

Korff, J 2023, Aboriginal films, movies, documentaries and series, <https://creativespirits.info/resources/movies>, retrieved 20 July 2024

Creative Spirits is a starting point for everyone to learn about Aboriginal culture. Please use primary sources for academic work.

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