Portrayals of Indigenous Australians in film were once totally absent or based on racial stereotypes and tokenism. These films reflect the diversity and vibrancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, while exploring complex issues like reconciliation, the Stolen Generations and connection to country and culture.
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) dir. Phillip Noyce
Based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, the film took the story of the Stolen Generations to wider Australia and the world. It tells of two sisters and their cousin who were taken from their home to the Moore River Native Settlement. The girls run away from the settlement and follow the rabbit-proof fence on foot to return to their families.
Released six years before former Prime Minster Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations, the film caused controversy among conservative commentators who were unhappy with its portrayal of the government of the time.
Samson and Delilah (2009) dir. Warwick Thornton
Filmed in and around Alice Springs, Samson and Delilah is the story of two teenagers who fall in love: Samson, a chronic petrol sniffer; and Delilah, who is burdened by grief. Despite the fact the two main characters exchange almost no dialogue, the film inspires viewers to feel connected with their plight.
Starring first-time actors Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson, the film explores experiences of intergenerational trauma. The eye-opening and confronting film powerfully portrays the harsh reality of life for some of our First Nations peoples.
Charlie’s Country (2013) dir. Rolf de Heer
Set within the context of the Northern Territory Intervention, we meet Blackfella Charlie (David Gulpilil) who lives in Arnhem Land. He feels frustrated and out of touch with a world that is no longer his.
Written collaboratively by Rolf de Heer (who was behind The Tracker and Ten Canoes) and the incomparable David Gulpilil, Charlie’s Country explores the topics of law enforcement and the importance of connection to culture and country.
Bran Nue Day (2009) dir. Rachel Perkins
Set in 1960s Australia, Bran Nue Day is a coming-of-age musical about an Aboriginal teenager on an unexpected road trip to his hometown. Adapted from a 1990s stage musical, the film’s star-studded cast, alongside filmmaker Rachel Perkins, brings his 3000 km journey from Perth to Broome to life.
While farcical and light-hearted for the most part, the film does take a look at serious issues like reconciliation and connection to country.
The Sapphires (2012) dir. Wayne Blair
Adapted from a stage production of the same name, The Sapphires is inspired by the true story of four Yorta Yorta singers who entertained troops during the Vietnam War. Australia’s answer to The Supremes, the women find love and heartache in difficult circumstances.
Despite the feel-good, comedic vibe of the film, it looks at the struggles facing Indigenous Australians – particularly women – in the years following the 1967 referendum.
Words by Bonnie Parker