Other Media Review

The Sapphires: A Guest Movie Review by Elizabeth

 Book The SapphiresThe Sapphires is an Australian movie that's recently been released in the US. Before I left for Australia, my cable provider was promoting it was an On Demand choice for movie night. Elizabeth contacted me about the movie, and about the controversy regarding the US movie poster (at left). I asked her to write a review, and she did. I hope it makes you curious to see the movie. Here is Elizabeth's review:

Sarah invited me to do a review of the movie, The Sapphires, after I sent her a link to the changes that had been made to the cover for the US market. These changes really annoyed me, but more on that in a minute.

As an Australian, I really enjoy seeing my culture reflected on screen. I like to hear Australian accents, and see Australian actors and so on. Given the ubiquity of Hollywood, this is not always easy, so I adjust my expectations. However, as a white middle-class woman, it is not that hard for me to have my voice heard.

For more marginalised groups, it is much harder. Aboriginal Australians have rarely had their stories told, and many Australians are ignorant of the history of racism that still affects the lives of most Aboriginal people today. Stories that are told are often still told through a white perspective, and focus on the difficulties and problems, often showing Aboriginal people as victims.

Which brings us to the movie, The Sapphires. This movie is based on a true story of an Aboriginal girl singing group in the 1960s who went to Vietnam to entertain the troops during the Vietnam war. It is written by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the women in the group. It is set in 1968, just after Aboriginal people were finally given the right to vote. It is not a blockbuster, nor is it flawless, but it is full of fun and music, and is really good humoured.

The plot centres on slice of the life of four Aboriginal women, Gail (Deborah Mailman, an accomplished and well-known Australian actress), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Kay (Shari Sebbens) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell). It begins with their life on a Mission outside an Australian country town. Chris O’Dowd plays Dave Lovelace, an alcoholic Irish musician who is down-on-his-luck, but who sees the talent in the girls and works with them to try to get to Vietnam. Dave teaches them to move from country and western to soul, and they go to Vietnam where they tour around the country entertaining the troops until the reality of the war intrudes on their adventure.

The Sapphires cover outside the US, four women of color surrounding the white manager singingThis is not a preachy movie. The women face racism and sexism, but it is just shown as part of their life, and it is left up to the audience to see the harm that these attitudes do.

The most serious issue is that of Kay, who is a removed from a hospital by government officials. At this time, the government had a policy of assimilation, and one part of this government policy was that fair-skinned Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and often adopted by white families. She was a little girl and got sick, so was taken to hospital. Part of the way that the government found light skinned children was when the children came into contact with various government officials, like nurses and doctors. [At that time,] they were identified and then removed.

The basic premise of assimilation was that this would eventually lead to the death of Aboriginal culture. As you can imagine, this policy has done great harm to the fabric of Aboriginal society. We now call this policy the Stolen Generation, and dealing with the ramifications of it is still happening. The movie deals with this in a matter-of-fact way, but we see Kay gradually reclaiming her heritage and her family, until at the end the smoking ceremony symbolises her return to her people.

The movie has some romance as well. Gail and Dave as the main leads have a HFN at the end of the movie, and it is clearly the ‘swingin’ sixties’ with lots of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but mostly off-screen. The women are shown as strong, competent, ambitious, and full of fun, loving each other and their music.

It came as a surprise then, to find that in the USA, the cover of the DVD removes the women, changing them into blue silhouettes on the background, with the white Anglo-Saxon male being front and centre. I suppose I thought that a movie with themes about sexism and racism would not have an issue with the original cover, which showed 4 beautiful women around a man. I was annoyed at the fact that this cover tried to marginalise the Aboriginal women, almost as if the distributors felt that the US audience would not be able to cope with black women telling their story.

Anyway, enough of my rant. Take a look at the difference and see what you think of the two covers, then if you feel that you need a feel good movie with a bit of a bite, then take a look at The Sapphires.

The Sapphires is available as a DVD and as an Instant Video from Amazon, and many US cable providers as an On Demand movie selection. You can see (I hope!) the trailer below: 



And the American trailer is slightly different (I think this is the US one) in how it also centralizes the dude in the story: 



So, given the review and the trailers, are you curious about this movie? Have you seen it? What did you think? 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Vicki says:

    I have not seen it but will check it out on amazon. I am also forwarding to my husband who spent way too long in Viet Nam (and was exposed to way too much Agent Orange which is why we are on our third cancer) and see if he’s interested. I think he might be.

  2. 2
    kkw says:

    I saw a trailer for it in Bangkok, and thought it looked fun, but it barely stayed a week in the theaters so I missed it.

  3. 3
    blodeuedd says:

    I saw it a few weeks ago and enjoyed it :)

  4. 4
    Eileen says:

    I’m sure many will want to flame me for this point of view, but I have to say that maybe the change of covers has more to do with money than sexism or racism.  I don’t think those actresses are well-known here in the U.S., but Chris O’Dowd has been making a name for himself so it makes sense that Hollywood wants to cash in on his rising star.

  5. 5
    Sara Darling says:

    Eileen – I had the same thought.  Not that the US doesn’t regularly marginalize women and particularly non-white women… but also, Chris O’Dowd is a known and well liked entity in the US, particularly after his role in Bridesmaids.  I agree that the change is likely a marketing decision to cash in on his personal popularity.

  6. 6
    Karin says:

    It looks like fun-I’ll probably rent it from Amazon because I doubt I’ll catch in the theater here.

  7. 7
    Joan Leacott says:

    I’d say neither poster does the story, or the women, justice. Alas, money talks. Both photos lead me to anticipate a story about a male singer’s rise to fame and fortune. The women are window-dressing. Based on just that, I wouldn’t be interested in going to see the movie. This review has changed my mind. Thanks, Elizabeth.

  8. 8
    azteclady says:

    For what is worth: both links show a whitewhased picture. Wikipedia shows the theatrical release poster.

    However, I agree that the main reason for the change is likely to be money—pimping a better known actor.

    Anyone remember a little movie called Mystic Pizza? Julia Roberts was a relatively minor character in it when it released originally. Check out the current DVD cover for that one.

  9. 9
    Darlynne says:

    This movie is up next in my Netflix queue and I, too, was infuriated by the US cover. I get it about the actor being better known here, but moving the women to the background, and making it look as though they are ancillary to him just pisses me off.

  10. 10

    If the intent was to cash in on Chris O’Dowd, for me the Australian poster works much better anyway. It’s far more recognizably him; I didn’t even realize who it was in the blue one.  He looks like a bad Elvis impersonator, something I’d never watch.

    In the Australian version, my impression would be that he’s their manager or something, a main character who’s probably comical (just cause it’s O’Dowd) but not THE main character, which is a lot more interesting anyway. It’s pretty silly and stupid the way they changed it. Sounds like a fun movie, and thanks for the review. I’ll buy it.

  11. 11
    Layla says:

    So foregrounding O’Dowd on the cover and minimizing the women’s presence seems like a sexist and racist move to me, which I think (in response to Eileen) is maybe not mutually exclusive with the claim that it’s just a marketing strategy. Because it’s not like marketing strategies exist in a vacuum, right? Deciding to capitalize on a consumer’s presence for O’Dowd—i.e., making it look like the movie is about him (because he’s funny and handsome and Irish and is that dude from Bridesmaids)—rather than represent the women who are the movie’s real focus is still racist and sexist.

  12. 12
    Fiona Lowe says:

    HI, I’m Australian and the DVD cover was fabulous here and not the pitcure shown in the blog. I have tried to find a link to it . try here but it is picture 3/  https://www.hopscotchfilms.com.au/the-sapphires-film
    Chris O’Dowd was at the back.

  13. 13
    Laura P. says:

    This reminds me a lot of ‘The Commitments’.  Both movies have that same sort of fish-out-of-water, doing-what-we-love vibe to them.  I look forward to watching it (and it doesn’t hurt that I adore the shlubby yet utterly adorable Chris O’Dowd).

    As far as the cover being changed for the US release, I doubt it has to do with O’Dowd being more well-known and therefore the “draw.”  (Except to a select few fans who recognize him from ‘Bridesmaids’ and, maybe, ‘The IT Crowd’, he’s still pretty much a relative unknown here in the states).  It’s probably more to do with the ingrained sexism and racism in both Hollywood and America.

  14. 14

    I ordered and watched The Sapphires on the On Demand channel from my cable provider based on the movie description alone. I never saw either movie poster until after I’d watched the movie and went to IDMB to find out more about it.

    I really enjoyed the movie. I was entertained, I learned something, and I came away from it thinking that Deborah Mailman is a hell of an actress. I hope to see her again.

  15. 15

    I can’t wait to see this movie!

    FYI, Chris O’Dowd hated the whitewashed US poster, calling it “vile” on Twitter:  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/film/the-sapphires-us-dvd-cover-vile-says-chris-odowd/story-e6frg8pf-1226690262756.

    I despise when this shit happens to books and movie marketing, and I’m always glad to see the backlash.  Maybe the suits will get it, someday.  There are a billion different ways to make a poster—definitely they could have found a way to highlight both O’Dowd and his gorgeous costars in their natural glory.

  16. 16
    chacha1 says:

    I had read that Mr. O’Dowd didn’t like the US DVD cover.  Good for him.

    This movie was given a blurb in my weekly newsmagazine and I thought it sounded like fun, so I ordered it.  It is in my TBW queue.

    I appreciate the perspective here.

  17. 17
    LovelloftheWolves says:

    I really enjoyed the movie. Though I felt that the whole Gail <> Dave relationship was… weak? Well it developed naturally, but I was rooting Gail so much that I felt she deserved a lot better. The relationships between the four girls, however, was fantastically played out.

    That american cover is just awful. There’s no excuse for it. It took the main characters and made them wallpaper backgrounds. UGH.

  18. 18
    Celebhwesta says:

    I’ve never commented on this blog before, even though I read it sometimes and have enjoyed many of the books you ladies recommend.  This movie was so good that I had to thank you, all of you.  I’m so picky about movies and so rarely find one that I absolutely adore.  I adore this one.  I adore it.  I cannot say that enough.  Moreover, my fiance loved it too.  Thank you so very very very much for this review.

  19. 19
    Katie Lynn says:

    Honestly I can see why they brought Chris O’Dowd to the foreground. For Americans one of the biggest draws to picking up a movie is seeing an actor they enjoy. Chris has an HBO series now and has been in several great comedies. While I agree that the female’s part in the movie has been marginalized on this cover it still doesn’t change the content of the movie.

  20. 20
    Vicky says:

    Never heard of this, which figures because it looks great! Thanks for the rec.

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