On a plane back from Perth, I was lucky enough to see The Sapphires as the in flight movie. It isn’t a perfect movie-it certainly conforms to many of the tropes of rise-to-success and Benedict-and-Beatrice romances. But there a couple of things about it which stand out. It shows indigenous women with agency, women who are determined and make their own opportunites. Proud, black Australian women who are strong, talented, beautiful, sexual and unapologetic about who they are. They are fun, they are happy. They face institutionalised racism and individual racism, and there are struggles with their own cultural and historical legacy. But mostly it is about strong women who have fun, have choices and make their own way in the world. At the end of the film we learn about the real women the film characters are based on – women who have spent their lives making the world a better place.
So, given this, and the fact I was already intending to write about this film for this reason, imagine my total horror when I see the television commercial for the film with the voiceover: they had talent, but one man gave them soul.
The attempt of this ad is really to take the agency from the women. Sure, Dave teaches them Motown, but other than that, their success is generally in spite of him, rather than because of him. And they certainly had “soul” in every other sense of the word well before they met him. The stars of this film are unabashedly the women. The value of this film is its treatment of the women. And yet, and yet, the television ad tries to make it about the man. Does the producer of the commercial think that audiences need the reassurance that there is a white man in charge of these indigenous woman? How offensive is this characterisation, this assumption. But am I suprised? Not really. Disappointed, but not surprised.
But do go and see it – the opportunity to see four indigenous women on a big screen together in a positive powerful way should not be missed.