“Good morning, I am a human being,” Bindi Williams tells the audience during an opening skit of Basically Black (1973). Evolving from the newly established National Black Theatre’s stage production, Basically Black combined comedy, activism and performing arts while reflecting the political struggles and organising of 1960s and 70s Redfern. The first TV program performed by an all-Indigenous cast and led by Blak writers, this groundbreaking program tackled serious issues, like racism and white paternalism, through humour. Despite being well received for its biting satire and commentary, the show didn’t air beyond its premiere. It later emerged that it was considered too political and provocative for the ABC, who had censored parts of the script.
The evolution from a script to a screenplay is common, as the stage and the screen have always been linked. Television series Basically Black (1973) was an extension of the National Black Theatre’s stage production of the same name, which was performed at the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney in 1972.
A key person in bringing our voices from the stage onto our screens was the legendary Bob Maza, father of Rachael Maza (who acted both in the stage and screen version of Radiance, and is the current artistic director of Ilbijerri Theatre Company in Melbourne). Bob Maza relocated to Redfern to work with actors such as Gary Foley, after spending some time with the National Black Theatre in Harlem. Maza, Foley and their Melbourne-based comrade Bruce McGuinness, who was the first Indigenous person to direct a documentary, Blackfire (1972), championed the necessity of our self-authored voices on-screen.
We only have to look at ABC’s Black Comedy today to see the effects that changemakers and agitators who, even though Basically Black only aired the pilot episode once in Australia, worked tirelessly to destroy barriers that excluded First Nations people from telling our own stories, and that embed a bit of Blak humour while commenting on issues that affect Aboriginal people.
– Assistant curator Kate ten Buuren
Want to find our more about Basically Black?
This article fromSBS gives an in-depth account of how the TV show evolved from the National Black Theatre, while the The Koori History Website has more behind-the-scenes images.
The Super Boong skit from Basically Black
Not in ACMI's collection
On display until
16 February 2031
ACMI: Gallery 1
The Story of the Moving Image → Moving Australia → MA-07. First Peoples: Our stories, our way → MA-07-02 Basically Black