Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The family of David Dungay Jr is taking the fight for justice to the big screen in a documentary series that elevates the issue of racial injustice in Australia.
UNHEARD is a new Amazon Prime Video documentary mini-series that explores Indigenous deaths in custody, the targeting of Indigenous youth, attacks towards Asian people during COVID-19 pandemics, Islamophobia, the vilification of the African community and the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
The first two episodes of the series explore the stories of Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr, who died in custody in 2015 after being held facedown by six prison guards, and 17-year-old Kamilaroi boy TJ Hickey, who died while being chased by two police paddy wagons in 2004.
Dungay and Hickey’s stories are told through interviews with family and friends, blended with animation, archive footage, podcasts, photographs, phone conversations and infographics.
Paul Silva, Dungay’s nephew, has been at the forefront of calls for justice since his uncle’s death.
He said the documentary format, with room for longer, more detailed interviews, changes the dynamic of his advocacy.
“It was quite different to actually sit down and talk about it,” he said.
“It does get emotions running, but it also gives you more time to sit down and actually think about the events and think about the actual failures.”
Silva said when he was first contacted by director Jack Steele, he knew he wanted to be involved in the project so that audiences could hear the story first-hand from Dungay’s family and friends.
“There’s a need to get the story out and there’s a need for the wider Australian community to see how the First Nations people are treated,” Silva said.
“The reason why I sit there so strong and talk about this traumatic event is because our voices need to be heard.”
“If we don’t stand up for our loved ones that have been murdered by the government, so to speak, no one else was gonna stand up and do it.”
But Silva said he doesn’t know if the series will change the conversation with government.
“I don’t have any faith in the Australian justice system,” he said.
“Missing Aboriginal kids, the treatment of Aboriginal youth within the community and within the juvenile detention centres; there’s massive problems, and the community in Australia can see it, but it’s like the government is deaf and blind to these issues.”
Wiradjuri Director Jack Steele said in taking on the project, he had to carefully consider whether he was the right person to tell Dungay and Hickey’s stories.
“As a director, you kind of need to make sure that you’ve got the maturity and the foresight to make sure that you’re being authentic to the story,” Steele said.
“It’s very easy as a director or as a producer to put your own voice into the story, and this project just wouldn’t have worked if it was my voice, because I never lived those experiences.”
“I spent a long time wanting to make sure because I always wanted to do the story. I wanted to sit with them and I wanted to help these families tell their truth.”
For Silva, showing the humans behind Australia’s deaths in custody statistics was paramount.
“It’s so easy for people to disregard these incidences of systematic racism just as tally figures,” he said.
“But every single one of those figures of Indigenous deaths in custody, that’s a name attached that as a human attached to that, and to every one of those humans is a family and a community that is grieving and is hurting.”
“It was really important to me with this series that when people watch it, they see that the trauma that is being felt by these people.”
The series is produced by LADBible Australia Originals, and written and produced by Shahn Devendran, Jack Steele, Cathy Vu, Luke Cornish, Dan Mansour, Olivia Suleimon and Ellen Dedes-Vallas.
“The UNHEARD campaign and documentary series not only provides a platform for these powerful stories to be told, but also helps put a global focus on Australian incidents of racial injustice that are often overlooked,” said executive producer, writer and creator, Shahn Devendran.
By Sarah Smit