It seems a big ask covering social, political and racial issues while entertaining a wide cross section of the community, but The Sapphires manages to take on the challenge and deliver.
With a cast ably led by Deborah Mailman and a soundtrack made up of classic 1960s soul sung by the talented Jessica Mauboy, cast and crew work hard to bring the 2004 play of the same name by Tony Briggs to the silver screen.
Inspired by the true story of Briggs’ mother Laurel Robinson and aunt Lois Peeler who travelled to Vietnam to sing for the troops during the war, the film starts off in a country town where the singers from a remote mission are trying out at a talent contest.
The MC for the contest is an Irish musician called Dave (Chris O’Dowd) on his last roll of the dice.
The cynical muso sees something special in the girls and transforms them from Country and Western entertainers to a local version of The Supremes who lose the contest but, after some practice and lessons about soul music from the Irishman who says he’s white on the outside but black inside, win the chance to play for the troops overseas.
Following in the footsteps of Red Dog, which also took a view of recent history, The Sapphires looks back at the 1960s— which were not all peace and love— and gives an insightful, different and refreshing perspective of events through the eyes of the young indigenous women who are struggling against major prejudice and fighting to take their place in a very unstable world.
The movie looks at, without delving too deeply, the issues of the stolen generation, separation, racial inequality and whether we should have been in a war in the first place, and without losing its way and staying on the right side of light entertainment.
Our girls go from a potentially hostile environment in a small country town to a far more hostile environment in a war zone while experiencing love and loss and learning about life.
One of the more humorous scenes in the film sees the band stopped by an angry enemy.
Trying desperately to prove they are entertainers, one of the girls starts chirping Sadie The Cleaning Lady, which infuriates the enemy even more, but another of the girls rescues the situation by breaking in to her native Aboriginal tongue, causing the supposed enemy to soften as he realises a kinship with a subjugated race and waves them on.
While Jessica Mauboy as Julie McRae revels in belting out classic ’60s tunes, it is the performance delivered by Deborah Mailman, playing her sister Gail, the Mama Bear to the others in the band, who steals the show as she takes centre stage with a strong performance.
In recent years Australian films presenting Aboriginal stories have usually been tough and showed a gritty edge in portraying life in films like Rabbit Proof Fence and Samson and Delilah.
But with movies likeBran Nue Dae and Stone Brothers, that range of stories is now including comedy.In his first film as director, Wayne Blair, in telling a story about four young Aboriginal women, has given us a fun film, a celebration of life.
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