To what extent is the film ‘The Sapphires’ a reliable historical source?
‘The Sapphires’ is a contemporary Australian film, which explores concepts relating to the treatment of indigenous peoples in history. It informs not only Australians but the World on what shocking events the Indigenous people had to experience in the mid 1960s. Although it is a sincere genuine story that focusses on the Aboriginal girl group, the ‘Cummeragunja Songbirds’ battling against prejudice, its historical reliability isn’t entirely valid. Only two out of the four Sapphires visited Vietnam, as their mother was unaware of where it was and what was happening (resulting in an agreement) and it was too dangerous for them to go. Furthermore, the film minimizes the mistreatment of Indigenous Australians during the 1950s and 1960s, as it was much more than a few racial remarks and trauma, instead it was horrifying experience that scarred one another for an entire lifetime, without overcoming it it in the process.
The Sapphires examines the consequences of the Stolen Generation, rather than the actual removal of children. The difficulty of reconciling with Indigenous family members after their removal and cultural assimilation is an emotion that contemporary audiences are inspired to consider, in addition to the historical events of child removal. The powerful message of the continued existence of the Stolen Generation is reiterated through the character Kay. Ten years’ prior, Kay’s light colour skin made her a worthy candidate for removal and subsequent assimilation into white culture. This was because Authorities targeted mainly children of mixed descent, i.e. what they called ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal children. Throughout the film she struggles with her identity, when she reflects on the very different upbringings of her and her cousins. The scenes dealing with the stolen generation are some of the most historically accurate sections of the film, however, beyond the feel-good drama, the film minimizes the mistreatment of Indigenous Australians during the 1950s and 1960s, elides the 20 years’ era of self-determination and plays down the racism of the assimilationist period. Through the character of Kay, the director implies that the policy of taking children away from their families (the Stolen Generations) had positive results. For example, when Gail says, “Psh yeah, we make ya ‘shamed do we? Geez, you haven’t changed one bit have ya? Still talkin like some upper class gubba (white person) like we’re your personal slaves!”, we understand that she is referring to the fact that Kay has been brought up with white people, diminishing her aboriginal culture. In actual fact, despite Kay’s ‘successful’ upbringing, being part of the stolen generation is likely to have left her with intense trauma lasting a life time.
Social discrimination plays a key role in this particular film, however, it is...