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Occasionally adding corroborative details to add verisimilitude to otherwise bald and unconvincing,
but veridicous accounts
with careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination.

04 August, 2013

A “Black Black Black Black Blackety-Black Black” Mark

The cover of a new DVD has irked some racists, apparently, because only a few weeks ago I was admonished by various commentators that, at least for spectators at an Australian football match, referring to people with Aboriginal ancestry as “black” was despicably racist.  In “Furore over ‘sexist, racist’ Sapphires DVD cover for US release”, by Karl Quinn, we read:
London-based American blogger MaryAnn Johanson wrote on her site on Tuesday that the artwork [for the cover of the US DVD] “is a problem”, suggesting Anchor Bay had both “dick-washed and whitewashed The Sapphires”.
“The women are Aborigines,” she wrote. “They are black black black black blackety-black black.  Not blue.  Oh, and they’re women.”

Just a thought but, maybe, the women were coloured blue because sapphires tend to be blue.
No-one seems to have been irked by the claim, on the cover of the region 1 DVD, that the film was “based on the incredible true story”.
Candice Chung, in Chris O’Dowd recast as The Sapphires star”, joins in the fun:
what’s outrageous about the Saphhiresgate is that it has not only (quite literally [!]) pushed the women out of the spotlight, but in doing so – also whitewashed [!] the film by featuring a better known white male star.
Australian director, screenwriter and playwright Briony Kidd highlighted the problematic approach on her blog, “If there’s a ‘name’ involved who’ll pique people’s interest, why wouldn’t you emphasise that?  But there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed ... there are also political and cultural sensitivities to be considered.”
In this case, the irony [?] is made even more painfully acute as the film is based on a true story – at a time where indigenous voices, particularly that of women’s, were stifled by significant social and political injustices.

As Kidd noted: “Given that the film itself touches on issues of racism in Vietnam War-era Australia, when it was hard for young women like these to gain the recognition their talents warranted, it’s egregious.”
Are the four women who star as “The Sapphires” in that film noticeably “blackety-black”?  Judging from various pictures, they don’t look as if they are extremely dark, as some might expect from learning that the film is based on the story of two Yorta Yorta women, from northeast Victoria.  Deborah Mailman has both Bidjera, from Queensland, and Māori heritage.  Jessica Mauboy’s father is of Indonesian descent, and her mother is an Indigenous Australian with Native American and English descentThe father of Shari Sebbens was of English descent, and her mother, from Broome, is of Jabirr Jabirr and Bardi heritage.  Miranda Tapsel once explained: “Mum is indigenous, from the Larrakia people of Darwin […] and from my father I get his Irish, English and Czech background.”  All four of these women, I notice, appear to have no ancestral or cultural ties to Yorta Yorta people, and none of them seems to have a family resemblance to one of the other three.
By the same process whereby someone with only one indigenous great-grandparent chooses to identify as Indigenous, the four singing stars of “The Sapphires”, if they felt the need, could choose to identify as, say, Māori, Indonesian, English and Czech.
In 2004 Tony Briggs—co-writer of the film, and author of the play whereon the film is based—explained that “The Sapphires” was loosely based on the real story of two sisters, his mother and his aunt, who toured Vietnam:
he says he found it liberating as a writer to expand the number of characters.  There were four women in the group originally, but only two were available to go to Vietnam.
Perhaps we need an Indigenous Australian elder to explain authoritatively who may rightly refer to Australians of mixed ancestry as “black black black black blackety-black black”, and where and when, and who may not.  Perhaps we also need to consider that many tales which people relate may not be true so much as based on a true story.

UPDATE I (5 August):  see “Original members of The Sapphires singing group slighted by ‘racist' US DVD cover of film based on their career, by Tristan Swanwick:
The original members of Aboriginal singing group The Sapphires have protested the “racist” US DVD cover of the film based on their career.
Naomi Mayers, Beverly Briggs, Lois Peeler and Laurel Robinson have joined a chorus of condemnation over American distributor Anchor Bay’s alteration of cover art for the hit Australian film.
The indigenous women, whose defiance of racism in 1960s Australia inspired the movie, have written to powerful US lobby the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (sic) People asking them to support a campaign to have the original art reinstated.  “As I’m sure you can appreciate, the treatment of people of colour in Australia mirrored much of the trauma to which people in the United States were subjected,” the group say in a letter written on their behalf by Sol Bellear, the chairman of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service.
“That trauma – and much of that treatment – remains alive and well in Australia today, as I know it does in the United States.”

“The US cover of the DVD completely misses this point, and in fact reinforces precisely the sort of bigotry that Naomi, Beverly, Lois and Laurel fought so hard against.”
“We’re hopeful that the NAACP – with its long and proud history of advocating strongly for the interests of people of colour – will add its significant voice to calls for the DVD cover to be changed.”
These “people of colour in Australia” fail to notice that the NAACP cares about only one sort of people of colour, those whom the organisation now calls “African Americans”.  Nonetheless, the NAACP, for some reason, has not decided to rename itself the NAAAA.
However, star Jessica Mauboy said she wasn’t bothered by the controversy.
“It doesn’t cross my mind; we all had a part and all had a moment and we all loved it,” she said.
A social media backlash began last week against the redesigned cover, which features Caucasian [!] actor Chris O’Dowd dominating the foreground over a blue-wash faded picture of his Aboriginal co-stars including Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy.  An online petition calling on Anchor Bay to restore the original cover art had attracted more than 8000 signatures.
UPDATE II (6 August):  we’re invited to sign a petition by Lucy Manne:
“The Sapphires” is a wonderful film based on the true story of four young Indigenous Australian women who formed a singing group that traveled to Vietnam in the 1960s to entertain the troops.
It’s about to be released on DVD in the US, which is great.  Not so great is the sexist, racist cover for the DVD that’s been chosen by the distributor, Anchor Bay – which features a huge photo of a male supporting character, with the female stars of the show relegated to the background (in a weird blue monotone effect that disguises their skin colour, just to add insult to injury).
In the words of film blogger MaryAnn Johanson, “Movies about women are rare enough.  Movies about black women are even rarer.  And now we’re gonna pretend the movies about women, whatever their color, aren’t even about them at all?”
Disgusting.  Tell Anchor Bay to change their cover ahead of the DVD’s release next week.

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