Australian Film ‘The Sapphires’ Makes Strides For Aboriginal Women
Finally, a movie that is a) Australian and b) features the talent of some of the most inspiring Aboriginal women in the country, is being considered for major film awards, such as the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
In a Feminspire article published by Christen N. Cromwell a few weeks ago, she outlined the challenges for women of colour trying to find a role in Hollywood, and that the few roles available are usually problematic in one serious way or another. The situation in Australia is equally dire. Since the “settling” (that term is being used as loosely as possible) of Australia, the beauty of Aboriginal women has been largely ignored and downplayed, in favour of the white, English settlers.
Throughout the darker periods of Australian history, Aboriginal women were only seen as “impure,” “exotic,” and “sexually deviant,” and never considered equal to the “purity” of white women. This awful stereotype was ingrained in the minds of the male settlers, who frequently abused and terrorised the Aboriginal population, especially women, with the pathetic excuse that Aboriginal women didn’t matter like the white, English settlers did.
While this widespread acceptance of atrociously racist behaviour is now something of the past, it has set the tone for how Aboriginal women are treated within society, and within the Australian entertainment industry. Aboriginal women are rarely seen in the Australian media – there are very, very few advertisements, movies, television shows, news segments or breakfast shows that boast any Aboriginal women. In fact, the last few times I’ve turned on the TV, I haven’t seen a single Aboriginal person of any gender. On the rare occasions when I do, the portrayals are typically negative. Racist stereotypes and ideals pervade most of the tiny, tiny space for Aboriginal people on the television.
Despite these challenges, there are a handful of women that have managed to break through this horrible barrier. More and more Aboriginal women have become well-known in Australian society, such as Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman, model Samantha Harris, actress Deborah Mailman (who was on a children’s show when I was growing up!), singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell. Mailman, Mauboy, and Tapsell have all collaborated on a movie called The Sapphires. While there have been advertisements on bus stops, in between the news and in newspapers all in Australia, I will provide some background in case the advertising isn’t quite so widespread in other locations:
During the Vietnam War in 1968, four singers from a remote Aboriginal mission are discovered by a talent scout. They are plucked from obscurity and named The Sapphires, Australia’s answer to The Supremes, and taken to their first real gig – entertaining troops in Vietnam – from The Sapphires Wikipedia
The movie (which is considered a musical) has opened to amazing reception. Its rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 93%, higher even than box office hits like The Dark Knight Rises. In Australian cinemas, The Sapphires made $2.59 million at the box office on its opening weekend, which is a spectacular performance for an Australian film. And now, perhaps most importantly, the Sapphires may be considered for a Golden Globe, or even an Academy Award. This would be an incredible feat for any Australian movie, as only one Australian film has previously won an Oscar, and only one other has been nominated. What makes The Sapphires‘ achievement so remarkable is that a movie primarily featuring three Aboriginal women has been so popular, despite all of the social barriers here in Australia that could have prevented such widespread success.
While it might not seem like much, this is a huge leap for Aboriginal women in Australia. In a country that has a long history of racial tension and abuse that leaks into the present day all too frequently, it is extremely important for Aboriginal women to be elevated to more prominent positions in Australian media. The Sapphires has opened the first door for them to be seen as strong, beautiful, talented and inspiring as its actresses are.
If The Sapphiresis playing on a screen near you, go out and see it! It’s a wonderful movie that most everyone can enjoy.
Are you going to see The Sapphires? Which other movies have made significant impacts to the way other groups with less privilege are seen by society? Share with us in the comments!
Written by Jessica Bagnall
Jessica is a student from Brisbane, Australia and Feminspire staff contributor