Hollywood representation of Indigenous Australians

Jedda 1955

In this film by Charles Chauvel the depiction of indigenous people reflects attitudes of the 1950s regarding the belief that it was within the best interests of indigenous people for them to be assimilated into wider society . Indigenous culture is represented as savage and even in this promotional video the actors are described as having come from their ‘traditional way of life’ to bring it to the big screen. Both indigenous characters Marabuck and Jedda are eliminated in the film, a consequence of their ‘Moral weakness’.  Rekhari (2008) states ‘The representation of Marabuck and Jedda is constructed by Chauvel to signify the end of a race. They are not allowed to live, because they are made to represent the fiction of a race that is ultimately doomed to extinction’

Walkabout 1971

In Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout the outback is depicted as a kind of mystical land romanticised through a kind of Orientalism or ‘nativism’ (Said 1986) depicted in scenes of the two white children  losing themselves in the beauty of the land under the protection of the indigenous boy. However the film also provides a disappearing view of aboriginal culture, the young boy kills himself at the end of the film again emphasising the dying culture, too fragile to survive exposure to the ‘outside’ ‘white’ word

Rabbit Proof Fence  2002

Philip Noyces film deals with the experience of the stolen generations. It aims to prompt an emotional response to the plight of the protagonists Molly and Daisy. It did so successfully, raising awareness around the world to what happened to these children and their families as a result of the governments assimilation policies. Whether the film is a ‘true’ narrative of the kind of experiences or merely a Hollywood exaggeration is widely debated. The film received fierce backlash for gross misrepresentation of the white Australian government’s treatment of indigenous people. Nevertheless the film raised awareness.

Australia 2008  

Baz Lurhman’s epic displays the kind of dualism seen in all the films above. The images of the grandfather in country and the small boy on walkabout are juxtaposed with Nicole Kidman’s colonial British aristocrat and the cattle business in the town creating a constant reinforcement of aboriginal racial stereotyping. There film demonstrates the belonging of the indigenous people to the land through customary obligations resulting in he physical and emotional distress of the small boy when he is taken away to the missions, perhaps reflecting more recent ideologies around self determinism of indigenous people.

Rekhari’s anthropological analysis of aboriginal filmic representation argues that they this far reinforce the fact that things are in a continual process of change, but have not yet reached a level representative of an actual contemporary Aboriginal socio-cultural, political and historical identity.

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