Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The Sapphires 
ChicagoSunTimes (N. Minow) review
The Sapphires  (directed by Wayne Blair, screenplay by Tony Briggs [IMDb] and Keith Thompson based on the 2004 stage play by the same name by Tony Briggs [IMDb]) is a nice/feel good, critically acclaimed / award winning film about a First Australian (Aborigine) "girls group" that sang for American (and presumably also Australian) troops in Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam War.
Viewers will find shades of other 1960s era "girl group" inspired stories like Sparkle (1976) [IMDb] (remake 2012 [IMDb]), Dream Girls [2006 IMDb] / and the Commitments [1991 IMDb] present in the story. However, the story behind The Sapphires  is inspired by the true adventures of Tony Brigg's mother Laurel Robinson and aunt Lois Peeler who really did tour South Vietnam in 1968 singing soul music with a New Zealander (Maori) band playing for the troops in the midst of the war  . The film then touches on universal themes of the promise/hopefulness of youth in the midst of radical fallenness (inherited racial strife and, indeed, war).
Indeed, one just wants to cry when one realizes that for the young women in this film (and for many of the soldiers around them) this was arguably the best/most exciting time of their lives even as they traveled with armed escort or by army helicopter from one base/gig to another with RPGs, tracer bullets and mortars flying and blowing-up all around them. And this wasn't even close to "their war" -- they weren't Vietnamese, they weren't Americans, and even the Australians (who did provide troops during the conflict) didn't really consider them "Australians" (or even people) but rather "Aboriginals" who we're told at the beginning of the film were considered by original Australian Constitution to be simply part of Australia's natural "flora and fauna."
And yet, one can not help but appreciate how for a bunch of young wide-eyed late teen, early 20 year olds (played so well by Gail Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) who grew-up "on the reservation" in the Australian Outback singing Aboriginee church songs and American Loretta Lynn country-western tunes, would find this adventure in Saigon and its environs now singing Aretha Franklin / Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye songs to similarly young, full of life, yet also "far, far away from home" American soldiers (often from oppressed minorities as well) to be positively "the time of their lives." It's a great if, if one thinks about it, tear filling story. The presence in the story of their "discoverer"/small-time manager (played by Chris O'Dowd) is perhaps a salute to The Commitments  and multilevel reminder of the universality of the experience being described (there have been plenty of poor whites who've been marginalized/mistreated over the generations and certainly a huge part of the success of the 1960s Motown sound was that it spoke to EVERYBODY who was young).
Finally, The Sapphires  reminds the viewer of the inspiration that the African American Civil Rights movement has had on the civil rights movements of "darker skinned" peoples across the globe. This film dealt with the struggles of Australia's "First Australians" to gain respect in a land that was frankly theirs prior to the arrival of Europeans. Recently, I saw another film, a Czech, Slovak and Romani collaboration called Gypsy (orig. Cigán)  about Europe's indigenous dark-skinned minority (the Romas/Gypsies) whose civil rights / dignity movement is finally gaining some traction. We can honestly ask ourselves why such an utterly random characteristic like skin pigmentation could have been allowed to cause such great division and suffering across our globe and our world's history. It honestly does not make sense. And yet so many people, often young people, have been destroyed over the generations on account of it.
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