As the Australian film and TV industry strives for greater diversity on screen, Madeleine Madden is among those blazing a trail for Indigenous actors.
The 20-year-old plays schoolgirl Marion Quade, one of three who go missing along with a teacher on Valentine’s Day 1900 in FremantleMedia Australia/Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Marion, who was played by newcomer Jane Vallis in Peter Weir’s classic 1975 film, is introduced as the only Indigenous character in the reimagining of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel.
Unlike the portrayal of the schoolgirls as ethereal figures in Weir’s film, the six-part series written by Beatrix Christian and Alice Addison shows them as fully-rounded characters, each with a back story.
“Marion prides herself on her intelligence and is really aware of the social prejudices of the era,” Maddy told IF. “Her father is white and her mother is Aboriginal. She is put into the school to be hidden away. This makes her aware of challenges which are unique to her and do not apply to the other girls.”
As a further twist, Marion has a romantic relationship with one of the women in the college.
Madden, whose aunt is the director Rachel Perkins, has worked steadily after making her debut in in Deborah Mailman’s short film Ralph when she was 12.
Her impressive credits include Tomorrow, When the War Began, Indigenous series Ready for This and Redfern Now and Jack Irish: Dead Point.
Perkins and her niece first worked together on Address to the Nation on the future of Indigenous Australians, which was broadcast on all the free-to-networks and some pay channels in 2010, reaching more than 6 million viewers, and later on Redfern Now.
Madden is delighted with moves to increase the diversity on Australian screens, which will gain impetus from the formation last week of the Screen Diversity and Inclusion Network (SDIN).
“I see so much more diversity on Australian screens now,” she says.
“When I was a kid I was more drawn to the American Disney channels because they had Latinos, African-Americans and Asian people. I did not find that on Australian TV when I was growing up. We are making big steps, but we have a long way to go.”
Commendably the actress is using her celebrity as an advocate for change. As an example, she is an ambassador for Live Below the Line, one of Australia’s largest youth-run organisations which has raised more than $10 million for education and campaigning initiatives that help fight poverty, particularly in South-East Asia.