Blanchett has had a long involvement with refugee issues including serving as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency since 2016. She has the figures at her fingertips: 70 million displaced people in the world, half of them children, with an average displacement time of 19 years.
“At what cost are we maintaining our borders? What fundamental aspects of our humanity have we allowed to be eroded? As a parent, when I go to film with the UN Refugee Agency and see children in detention, my heart breaks and I just do not understand how we can allow that to happen,” she said.
Series development began in 2013, but the creators decided to set it in the early 2000s when immigrants were yet to be sent offshore. Camps on the mainland like the Baxter Centre in Stateless were certainly remote, but more accessible to advocacy groups and the media than Manus Island would be.
“At the time we were starting the story, it was cloaked in silence,” said Blanchett.
At the same time, it was “highly politicised” along an increasingly bitter divide. She compared the level of debate with the public discussion around the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States, the subject of her last series Mrs America.
“There was a level of public discourse that seems to have gone, certainly out of our culture, so that discord and disagreement and discussion is somehow turned into haranguing,” she said. Very complicated issues require nuanced discussion of the grey areas that just don’t take place. So I think now drama is the place where you can present all of those perspectives.”
In a talk largely confined to Stateless, Blanchett did respond to a question about the ramifications of Harvey Weinstein’s conviction.
Time to move forwards, she said. “I think women have for far too long been separated from each other, but I’ve noticed a way that the songlines between women creating work have deepened. Women are circling the wagons, not in an exclusive sense, but being more open about roadblocks or difficulties or moments of failure.”
One change, at least, she has on record.
“The last few years, every set I’ve been on I would go on a walk through in the morning and I would take a little picture, just for myself, of who was behind the camera. One morning I was one woman among 35 men. And I thought ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I have been the only woman on set, in front of the camera or as a crew member, for 20 years’,” she said.
“But in the last couple of years I did Mrs America and Stateless and there was parity. And I thought ‘I really enjoy this’. It’s about making that change permanent.”
Stephanie Bunbury is a film and culture writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.