Shari Sebbens

review sapphires

Editor’s Note: Allison’s review originally ran during the film’s premiere at last year’s AFI Film Fest, but we’re re-running it as the movie opens in limited release this week. The music industry is a brutal landscape scattered with broken dreams and unrecognized talent, but when you take this landscape and add to it racism and war, the stakes are set even higher. Based on a true story (and adapted from the stage play of the same name), The Sapphires is not simply another tale about a girl group trying to make it, it is about a family fighting for a better life for themselves while at the same time coming to terms with their painful past. In 1950s, the Aboriginal population of Australia was considered “not human” and ignored by society until the government began raiding these small communities and stealing their fair-skinned children to pass them off as white. Known as the “stolen generation,” these children were ripped away from their families and traditions to instead be taught “white ways” in an attempt to make them “acceptable” to society.

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The simplest way to sell Wayne Blair‘s film debut The Sapphires is to say it is like the point where Dreamgirls and Cool Runnings meet, only with a more explicit socio-cultural message, and played out against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. And all in all it’s a largely undemanding, entertaining affair. The title refers to an all-Aboriginal vocal group – Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Kay (Shari Sebbens), and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) – who leave the discriminant community their families live on the edge of and travel to Vietnam to entertain the American troops, under the guidance of their self-styled “Soul Man” manager (played by the excellent Chris O’Dowd in a role that bears resemblance to John Candy‘s in Cool Runnings). Along the way The Sapphires explores similar issues to Dreamgirls: the group are initially torn by personal frictions and haunted by underlying racial tensions both within their own group and in the wider world, and have their heads turned by the new opportunities of fame.

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