Wayne Blair puts Aborigines in the spotlight for ‘The Sapphires’

Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens star in "The Sapphires" Credit: Lisa Tomasetti/ The Weinstein Company
Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens star in Wayne Blair’s “The Sapphires.”
Credit: Lisa Tomasetti/ The Weinstein Company

Hidden inside director Wayne Blair’s heartwarming debut, “The Sapphires,” is a harsh history lesson on Australia’s abhorrent racial policies from the not-so-distant past. The film recounts the true tale of four soul-singing aboriginal sisters who head to Vietnam to entertain American troops since they can’t get much work back home, where just a year earlier they were considered flora and fauna instead of actual people.

Outside of Australia the story of “Stolen Generation” is not as well known as it should be. Does the text at the beginning of the movie also appear in the Australian version?
No, it doesn’t. People in Australia know about it to a certain extent, but need to be reminded, for sure. To most Australians it was new information until 15 or 20 years ago. It’s a very sour subject with indigenous Australia in the sense of bringing up some truth, some disgusting truth; but, yeah, many people don’t know much about that history at all [in the States]. The screenings that we had, 90 percent of people had no idea, and the 10 percent that heard something about it, it’s usually due to the film “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

I was really amazed that it wasn’t until 1967 that the law was changed.
Yeah, exactly. The year before that, Aboriginal people were flora and fauna. They were counted as a cow or a sheep or as a plant. It’s actually quite disgusting. That’s only 44 years ago. Australia has a harsh history so it’s taken this long to forgive and forget a few things, but it’s still going to take a while longer.

Are tensions still sore in the country?
Yeah, it’s still a bit sore, a touch sour, but people have moved on. People remember it, but it’s hard for non-indigenous Australia to recognize it 100 percent of the time, to take it in fully. I think that some people have taken it in a little bit but it’s sort of done the wrong way. So it’s one of those things I think that still has a long way to go for Australia.

I was impressed by that impact Martin Luther King Jr. had on the Australian people.
Yeah, the correlation between [the civil rights movement] for Australian people and that for American people is huge in the sense the Americans probably had no idea about how much that man had impacted the world. He did, but especially did have the resonance for black Australians — Aboriginal Australians — at that time because of a lot of policy and their fighting for their basic human rights. They got a lot of that from the American civil rights movement, which is great.


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