The 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 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.
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?