The Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Superhero genres are applicable to most cultures, countries or languages. They are fantastical stories, grounded in reality, but no singular culture, a vampire theoretically can be from any nationality or race, or a superhero can rescue any city in any language. They don’t even have to be from the same planet as us. It’s common concepts and framework of defeating evil against adversity and escapism make its genre appealing and visceral to all. That being said, why is it The Avengers and The Green Arrow and alike seemingly focus on saving North America and the UK? And largely White European for that matter.
There is growing fragmentation of superheroes, and desire for a wider range than what Marvel has been offering. There is a demand and interest for POC (People of Colour) wacking on the spandex, and for local superheros to pick up their capes. When has there been an Australian superhero rescuing us from our Australian troubles? And no, Chris Hemsworth doesn’t count.
The Superhero has finally come to our shores. It is not an adaptation of a current show from another culture, but the core elements have been brought over, and translated to a new story relevant to us. ‘Cleverman’ (2017) cleverly incorporates the rich history of the indigenous people into a dystopic future, interweaving the superhero element with The Dreamtime stories. It merges the sci-fri tropes, and bursts through the genre with added diversity. It retains the common element of a hero battling inner and outer demons, whilst exploring universal ideas of refugees, discrimination and overcoming adversity.
‘Cleverman’ is rich in detail and story, and arguably, a concept ripe for the taking to be adapted to another culture. In the over saturated TV market of superhero and sci-fi, ‘Cleverman’ offers a refreshing new perspective and captivating story that has reached many corners of the world. It has offered a new way to engage with our culture, and translated a specific culture (The Indigenous people and the Dreamtime stories). Intertwining a rich and complex history into a hypothetical future seems applicable to almost any culture, and could explore each culture’s own specific stories and issues, not only universal values.
But can ‘Cleverman’ be translated to another culture? When so much of its story is tied to a very specific culture, could it be as successful or compelling if it were about Native Americans? Even the name of the show would have to be changed, as Cleverman is a high powerful role and sensitive topic for Indigenous Australians. Unpacking and re-assembling ‘Cleverman’ would involve an incredible amount of cultural translation, so much that it would become an entirely different show. It even lends to the argument, should it be translated? Something so unique and inseparable from our culture warrants a pause, that should an international market come knocking wanting to adapt the show, that these stories should stay where they are from.
There is an incredible amount of praise and commendation for ‘Cleverman’ from national and international audiences without a need to translate, and shows a desire for our stories to be heard in a wider audience. Distribution rights for the show have been signed and passed along, and two seasons completed. At a time in television, when we are craving more and more new stories to be told, its no wonder ‘Cleverman’ satiates our appetite. It has 60,000 years of stories knitted into its core.
“They were diverse. Some were tall, some were angry, but each place I went, I would hear about them. So we took something that was within 60,000 years of storytelling and made it universal,” Cleverman producer Ryan Griffen (Screen Australia)
References & Further Reading
Moran, A., 2009. TV formats worldwide: localizing global programs
‘NO SPANDEX REQUIRED: Cleverman, Indigenous Stories and the New Superhero’ Gallagher, C 2016 Metro, 190, p. 34