• Cast and crew of Mystery Road pose with the AACTA Award for Best Drama Series during the 2020 AACTA Awards (Getty Images AsiaPac)Source: Getty Images AsiaPac
Black excellence took centre stage at the 2020 AACTA Awards, including wins in Best Documentary, Best Drama Series and Best Direction in Non-fiction Television.
Shahni Wellington

1 Dec 2020 - 2:44 PM  UPDATED 1 Dec 2020 - 2:44 PM

After a record number of Aboriginal stories and Aboriginal-led productions were nominated for this year's Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts (AACTA) Awards, three categories were taken out by black excellence.

In what was a challenging time for the creative industry and our communities in 2020, nine nominations across the board and multiple award winners was something to be celebrated.

The highly-contested AACTA Award for Best Drama Series belonged to Mystery Road, a collaboration between Bunya Productions and ABC, with multi award-winning Aboriginal directors Warwick Thornton (The Beach) and Wayne Blair (Top End Wedding).

Another kudos to Wayne Blair came with the AACTA Award for Best Documentary: Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra, in which he co-directed with Nel Minchin.

Now in the dance company's 30th year, the documentary followed the inception of Bangarra and tells the story of how three young Aboriginal brothers – Stephen, David and Russell Page – created one of Australia’s leading performing arts institutions.

The AACTA for Best Direction in Non-fiction Television was awarded to Larissa Behrendt for her work as director in the television documentary, Maralinga Tjarutja - more details on this prestigious award below. 

In a speech made on the night, Kaytej man and screen arts all-rounder, Warwick Thornton, took time to comment on the reckoning that was 2020 and look ahead to the future.

"We’ve done such an amazing job in this country to get rid of coronavirus haven’t we?" Mr Thornton said.

"Now I’ve got this really stupid idea that maybe we could get rid of racism?"

"The state with the most racists – we shut it down, because it’s not something you’re born with – it’s something you catch... Anyway strange thought," he said before announcing the nominees for Best Direction.

Larissa Behrendt and Maralinga Tjarutja

Eualeyai and Kamillaroi woman and renowned author and academic, Professor Larissa Behrendt, will now add award-winning director to her list of achievements.

Her work on the inspiring documentary, Maralinga Tjarutja, earned the gong for Best Direction in Non-Fiction Television.

"I am beyond thrilled to get this award for a film that's so close to my heart. From Gadigal land, I'd like to just thank the Maralinga Tjarutja people so much for the privilege of allowing me to tell this story," Ms Behrendt said in her acceptance speech.

"It's been one of the most amazing experiences of my life."

'Maraling Tjarutja' tells the story of the Maralinga Tjarutja people and their fight for country after their ancestoral homelands in regional South Australia was the location for the British Nuclear Test Program between 1953 and 1963. 

It details their struggles for the clean-up of contamination, for compensation and in 2009, for the handback of the Maralinga Village and test sites.

After paying tribute to the production team that backed her vision for the film, Ms Behrendt finished on a touching point.

"Finally to my family, my mum, my brother and of course my amazing husband Michael Lavarch - My sun, my moon, my morning star, I couldn't do it without you,"

"Always was, always will be - Aboriginal land."

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