Season eight of Wentworth premieres Thursday night on APTN, and it picks up where season seven left off.
The multi-award-winning drama returns with 10 new episodes packed with rivalries, unlikely allegiances, friendships and power struggles.
Wentworth has grown exponentially since its inception back in 2013 focusing more on Indigenous heritage and representation in recent years, something Leah Purcell – who plays Rita Connors on the show after joining during season six, says was a key point in her joining the show.
“I’m a Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman so I’m from Queensland, that’s in the north of the country,” Purcell said in a Zoom interview from Australia.
“Part of I guess luring me to the role and the production was that we would focus on my Indigenous heritage and Rarriwuy Hick, who plays my sister and that we could collaborate on that so that we felt we had control of our storyline and made sure that we were authentic to our mobs and our people and we wanted to get it right because it was a representation,” she said.
The show’s premise of Indigenous women in prison being the main characters is an example of art imitating life.
In Purcell’s native Australia, Indigenous people make up most of the prison system and many still face racism much like here in Canada and around the world.
“We all know the true numbers for First Nations people in prisons are high across the world, so that representation wasn’t quite right when me and Rarriwuy arrived,” replied Purcell. “We said there’s only two Indigenous women here, where you know, we know the numbers are way, way higher but they really heard us and took that on and wanted to you know show not only in Australia but the world we’re listening and trying to find that diversity within the characters and in our lead characters too.”
In this social climate, with rallies for equal treatment and justice for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), Purcell believes hope is on the horizon.
“It is a problem with our First Nations people, and what’s wonderful about this time is there’s a lot of young people coming through who are technically savvy and are voices and what’s strong is that the movement, the cause is still fight and still fire in our bellies and that’s what’s so important for us,” she said.
“You know it took 200 plus years to destroy us but we’re coming back, and that’s across the world.”
In Canada, the federal government pledged to address the over incarceration of Indigenous Peoples in Wednesday’s speech from the throne.
As for what viewers can expect in season eight of Wentworth, Purcell was tight-lipped but said viewers can still expect the same energy and emotion fans fell in love with over previous seasons.
“There’s fire in everyone’s bellies, of course there’s going to be a bit of biffo, of course there’s a beautiful love story, we’ve got new characters coming in. They’re exciting, there’s a young generation, their holding the storyline,” she said.
“And some of our favourite female actors have graced us. It’s action packed and once again it’s still the wild ride that Wentworth is that everyone loves.”