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‘Sapphires’ of Oz protest US DVD: Racism at work?

Published on Monday, 05 Aug 2013
The controversial US DVD cover of 'The Sapphires'
The original Australian DVD cover of 'The Sapphires'

SYDNEY: The Aboriginal Australian women whose lives inspired the acclaimed movie The Sapphires have protested at the film’s US DVD cover, saying its portrayal of a white male actor as the lead disrespects people of colour.

The feel-good flick about four Aboriginal singers sent to entertain troops in Vietnam has the women on its DVD cover in Australia.

But in the US version, they are “blue washed” and placed in the background while Irish actor Chris O’Dowd – who plays their manager – is front and centre in full colour.

In Los Angeles, the American distributor of The Sapphires has apologised for the DVD cover, and said it was considering new cover art for future shipments.

Anchor Bay Entertainment said in a statement on August 5 that it “regrets any unintentional upset” caused by the DVD, which will be on US store shelves on August 6.

The original Sapphires – Naomi Mayers, Beverly Briggs, Lois Peeler and Laurel Robinson – have written to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the US to complain.

The women, in a letter written on their behalf by the Aboriginal Medical Service, say the DVD cover completely missed the trauma that people of colour experienced in Australia and the United States.

“The US cover of the DVD... in fact reinforces precisely the sort of bigotry that Naomi, Beverly, Lois and Laurel fought so hard against,” it said.

“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.”

Mayers, who works at the Aboriginal Medical Service in inner Sydney’s Redfern suburb, described the cover as disrespectful.

“What has upset us is that the DVD cover appears to miss that point (of the film) entirely,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. “It’s disrespectful to the very talented young Aboriginal actors in the film, and it’s disrespectful to us as a group. But in particular, it’s disrespectful to women of colour everywhere who have stood up against this sort of thing all their lives.”

Mayers said the women were proud of their work with the Sapphires and of the film.

“We hope that the US distributors of the DVD stop and think about how their depiction of that work might be received, and that it motivates them to reconsider the cover artwork before the DVD is distributed,” she said.

 The US cover has already caused a storm on social media, with O’Dowd himself tweeting in response to a question that it was “ridiculous, misleading, ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn’t”.


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