SBS has done it again. It has commissioned a terrific, groundbreaking drama that takes audiences inside the world of a misunderstood Australian minority community.
This time it’s Sunshine, a four-part miniseries set in the South Sudanese community in the western suburbs of Melbourne.
The cracking yarn started on SBS on Wednesday night. It’s told by terrific actors – new and experienced – and beautifully realised by some of the country’s best drama creatives.
It fits snugly alongside The Principal, Deep Water and East West 101, as well as all the amazing international drama on SBS On Demand.
Sunshine tells two interwoven stories.
The first is about Jacob Garang – beautifully played by first-time actor Wally Elnour – who dreams of making it to the NBA.
The second story follows fellow basketballer and endearing bad boy, Santino Dut, played by Autiak Aweteek, who’s implicated in the assault of a young girl.
Aweteek’s also a first-timer who sometimes steals the show with his captivating portrayal of Santino.
In Sunshine, art mimics life for the fledgling actors.
“Jacob is … he’s basically just me,” Elnour told SBS Online.
“It’s my everyday life. It really is. He plays basketball like me, and he’s trying to go to America, which I did. And he’s the humble kid. And I’m a bit humble.
“So when I came in, I just played myself. I didn’t have to do much acting.”
Aweteek told SBS News he began drinking at the age of 12.
“Drink, drink, drink. Then when the liquor kicks in, look for an excuse, getting in trouble with the police, getting involved in fights, brawls,” he said.
His 22nd birthday last year was the first he had not been arrested since his 13th, thanks to a mentoring program set up by Ez Eldin Deng, the cultural liaison consultant for the series.
Deng’s main job was to help find authentic actors – difficult in the white-dominated Australian industry.
“The African diaspora is very different, and we look different,” Deng told SBS Online.
“People from South Sudan, they’re a bit darker than people from Uganda – they’re a bit lighter. Kenya, even lighter. Nigeria, darker. It was an eye-opening experience for the casting director.”
Established actors support the newbies well.
Anthony LaPaglia plays a blinder as reluctant coach and former basketball star Eddie Grattan, and Melanie Lynskey returned from the US to play lawyer Zara Skelton.
Director Daina Reid (Secret River and The Wrong Girl) says she was “a little daunted” by taking on the series.
“I was taking on the responsibility of telling the story of another culture’s experience in Australia – a culture that, at the time, I had very little experience with.”
It was filmed on location in Sunshine – often on the tabloid front pages because of gang problems or violence.
“I live in the western suburbs of Melbourne, and I find it very vibrant and culturally diverse, and sure, it has its industrial areas, but I wanted to shoot it with that warmth and with a sense of home to it,” Reid says.
This series proves again that SBS drama knows its reason for being. To acquire and use their tiny commissioning budget to deliver rarely told, quality community stories.
Sunshine certainly delivers on that score.