The Sapphires: A Reflection of Australia's Multicultural Identity

Acceptance, determination and a laid-back nature are all characteristics of an Australian voice. ‘The Sapphires’, set in the 1960s, stars four talented aboriginal girls who are in a musical girl group, entertaining the US troops in Vietnam. Gail, Julie, Cynthia and Kay, the four girls in the group each display unique personalities which portray different voices. To explore the voices in The Sapphires, this essay  analyzes the collection of voices portrayed throughout the film which define and characterise Australians, their identity and their values. The major ones include the acceptance of race, determination and laid back, casual type.

An understanding voice is highlighted in the film through a character named Dave Lovelace, who was the piano player and manager of the girl group. Who the girls thought was an irresponsible, alcoholic man, turned out to be an angel sent down from heaven, accepting the girls as part of society when the rest of the white population did not. Clear evidence of this is portrayed when the sisters lose a singing competition at their local pub, clearly being the best singers out of all competitors, lose, simply because of their colour, rather than their talent. When the judge announces the winner to be a white girl, who clearly did not sing the best, Dave stands up for the girls and exclaims ‘You’ve given it to Noeleen? She’s allergic to music!’, suggesting that she did not deserve to win, the Sapphires did. A wide-angle medium shot has been utilised to portray Dave’s disbelief to the judge’s decision as well as to highlight the girls’ shock to his support, him being a white. This idea of acceptance is evident as Dave, a white person feels that there is no reason for this racism, so he helps them by signing them up for a gig in Vietnam to entertain the US soldiers. Not only that, but in the end, Dave and Gail’s relationship intensifies into a romantic one and he goes beyond racism and gets married to her. This shows that behind every dark cloud, there is a rainbow. Accepting someone for who they are rather than their race is a trait all Australians have. This proves the positive values of an Australian by showing acceptance of race which displays the values that the voice holds.

Another prominent voice throughout the movie is Gail’s, who is the oldest. A strong voice of pride and determination is portrayed in the movie ‘The Sapphires’ as the characters battle racial prejudice as well as family conflict. Strength, resilience, and an attitude of ownership of country are themes which greatly correlate to this voice. Evidence of this voice is presented various times in the film when Gail, the eldest of the group, is portrayed to be the most protective and aggressive as she experiences discrimination throughout the film due to her being an Aboriginal woman in the times when blacks weren’t accepted in the community. This sense of pride is emphasised as she does extremely well at ignoring the discrimination throughout the film and shows her pride of being an Aboriginal. More specifically, when the girls introduce themselves to everyone at the pub, Gail says and I quote, “I’m Gail, this is Cynthia and just as you know, you’re all standing on black fella country”. This introduction, full of superiority, proves that the voice of an Australian is strong and means standing up for yourself and one another and not letting negative people bring you down. A medium shot is used in this scene to show the girls facing the audience, who gives them a half hearted applause, due to them being black. This shot captures Gail’s strong stance and body language which emphasises her dominance.

The identity of an Australian is typically described as ‘laid back’ or relaxed and this is completely true as it is shown by various voices and characters in the film. Comedy is utilised to make gloomy, dull situations light hearted and easier to cope with. Out of the four in the group, Cynthia is clearly the diva and party animal of the Sapphires, who is always getting with guys, drinking, and living her life to the fullest, as an idealistic Australian would. During one of the gigs in the movie, Cynthia gets so out of hand, being the party animal and instead of singing, she struts down to the crowd, with a bottle of alcohol and was raised into the air by men. A panning shot is used to show her dancing and strutting throug the crowd of men, having the time of her life. She experiences prejudice by her sisters throughout the film but doesn’t take any offence as she thinks she is “perfect” and “cool”. She is ignorant of all the worries and dangers in Vietnam where there was a war, instead she was having fun. The exemplifies the stereotypical identity of an Australian and how they are typically perceived to have laid back, relaxed attitude to life and not stress about the little things.

In essence, The Sapphires gives us a deeper understanding of Australian Voice through various characters, film techniques as well as their identities and values. Acceptance, determination and a laid back nature helps to back this voice and shapes the identity of an Australian.

16 August 2021
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