When George Floyd died at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis on the 25th May 2020, it opened up the issue of police brutality and racism worldwide to public scrutiny. Huge crowds in many different countries – including Australia – were motivated to attend marches protesting against police brutality and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
It matters to Australians because here we have the Indigenous people of Australia – the Aborigines. We hear statistics like the fact 432 Indigenous people have died in custody in Australia since 1991 – and there have been no convictions for any of those deaths. That’s when we know we we need to look in our own backyard as well.
Wherever you live in the world, because the issue of police brutality now has a light shining on it, there’s a lot you can do to support the Black Lives Matter movement. If you take some time to read about it and watch films about it, you’re far more likely to discover how this movement has become so important now in 2020.
So here are 10 movies and television shows which will give you some background to the story of the Aborigine in Australia. Stream these and you’ll be educating yourself about what the situation.
If you feel strongly about understanding more about the Australian indigenous culture, then heed Miriam-Rose’s advice and learn more about our shared indigenous culture.
Samson & Delilah (2009)
When Samson & Delilah came out in 2009 it was heralded as the film that changed Australian cinema forever. Why? Because it’s a confronting, honest film and it’s deeply affecting. How does it achieve this? Well, a lot has to do with the fact it’s the first film from indigenous director, Warwick Thornton.
Thornton grew up in Alice Springs in the heart of Australia and he knew first-hand the scenarios he was portraying in his film. Samson & Delilah put Thornton on the map worldwide and the film won the Cannes d’Or award for the best first feature film in 2009. Reviewers all over lauded it as one of the most remarkable Australian films of this century.
Throughout the film, Thornton doesn’t hold back – showing us the harsh realities of the cultural divide still evident in Australia. We watch Samson and Delilah trying to live in this unforgiving world they find themselves in.
Stream Samson & Delilah on Stan, Google Play, Apple TV or YouTube
Sweet Country (2017)
Warwick Thornton followed up his first film, Samson & Delilah, with Sweet Country eight years later. After bowling over the global film world and winning the Cannes d’Or award for the best first feature film with his first film, Thornton gave us something different with Sweet Country.
Set back in an earlier time period of 1929 on the Northern Territory frontier, Thornton tells us about a time where justice itself was put on trial. Based on a series of true events, it tells a harsh story against the backdrop of a divided society (between the European settlers and Aboriginal Australians) in the interwar period in Australia.
In making this film, Thornton had a lot of support from the Australian film industry and well-known actors Sam Neill and Bryan Brown starred, obviously taking much lower money to be in this small, independent film but at the same time, bringing the film to a much wider audience. Indigenous actor, Hamilton Morris, stars as Sam Kelly.
The film was first screened in the main competition section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival in September 2017 and after winning the Special Jury Prize award there and went on to win several awards internationally, including the Platform award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Reviewers have said Sweet Country is one of the most important and honest films to come out of this country, offering a vital and rich Indigenous perspective of how Aboriginal people have been treated historically.
Watch Sweet Country on SBS On Demand, Apple TV, Google Play and YouTube
Mystery Road (2013)
Ivan Sen directed this film about an Indigenous cowboy detective, Jay Swan, who returns to his outback hometown to solve the murder of a teenage girl. Alienated from both the white-dominated police force and his own community, Jay stands alone in his determination to fight back for his town and his people.
The cast includes Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving and Jack Thompson. Sen made a follow-up film called Goldstone and this film received much critical acclaim as well.
The two films then inspired a TV series called Mystery Road, also directed by Sen, which follow on from where Goldstone finishes. There are now two of these series available to watch on ABC iView. These series star a who’s who of Australian actors including Aaron Pedersen, Judy Davis, Deborah Mailman, Colin Friels, Ernie Dingo and John Waters.
Watch the films, Mystery Road and Goldstone on Stan, Apple TV and Google Play. Watch the TV series on ABC iview and Stan
The Sapphires (2012)
Directed by Wayne Blair, The Sapphires tells the tale of Gail, Cynthia, Julie and Kay – four women who are black, young and talented. Then suddenly, amid all the disruption of 1968, they’re plucked from the obscurity of a remote Aboriginal mission and promoted as Australia’s answer to The Supremes and dropped into the jungles of Vietnam to entertain the troops.
The 2012 musical became the highest grossing Australian film ever on an opening weekend. Packed with songs you’ll know and love, The Sapphires is a great, fun film.
The cast includes Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell and Chris O’Dowd. Because it was so popular, the film helped launch the screen careers of some of these Indigenous actors, including Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens and Jessica Mauboy.
Watch The Sapphires on Netflix, Google Play, Apple TV and YouTube
Toomelah tells the story of what it’s like to grow up in a remote Aboriginal community. Ten-year-old Daniel yearns to be a ‘gangster’ like the male role models in his life so he starts skipping school and running drugs for Linden, who runs the main gang in town.
Then a rival drug dealer, Bruce, returns from prison and a showdown ensues where Daniel is forced to make a choice for a better future. This is a powerful film and it was selected to play at the Cannes International Film Festival.
Watch Toomelah on SBS On Demand
Redfern Now (TV Series, 2012 — 2014)
Redfern Now explores contemporary inner-city Indigenous life. When it came out on Australian television, it was new and exciting because it’s written, directed and produced by Indigenous Australians – Rachel Perkins, Wayne Blair, Leah Purcell and Catriona McKenzie.
The series won a string of awards and was lauded for its gritty, hard-hitting drama as it chronicled the lives of people in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Redfern. Some critics say it’s among the best television the country has ever produced.
Watch Redfern Now on Stan, Google Play and Apple TV.
Bran Nue Dae (2009)
This film is a light-hearted take on the life of a young Indigenous Australian boy called Willie back in the late 1960s. Willie just wants to escape a religious mission and return home to Broome to be with his girl, Rosie.
Directed by Rachel Perkins, the cast list is again a who’s who list of Australian talent including: Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo, Missy Higgins, Geoffrey Rush, Deborah Mailman and Magda Szubanski.
Watch Bran Nue Dae on Prime Video, Google Play and Apple TV
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)
Director Fred Schepsi brought The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith to our screens back in 1978 and at the time, this story of a disillusioned and mistreated Aboriginal worker who becomes a mass murderer was difficult at times for the public to appreciate.
But overall the film was highly regarded and yes – Quentin Tarantino cites it as one his personal favourites. It’s based on a true story of a part Aboriginal man taken in as a child by a white Minister and his wife and raised to ‘assimilate’ into white society.
Though highly regarded by critics and lauded as a masterpiece, this adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s novel didn’t fare well at the box office and Fred Schepisi left shortly after its release to move to Hollywood. Viewed today, the film has lost none of its raw emotive powerful.
Watch The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith on Prime Video