The Sapphires is a story based very loosely in real life of an Aboriginal singing group in the late ’60s who end up travelling to Vietnam to entertain the American troops stationed there. That’s really the story, but under it all is the history lesson–one that I only vaguely knew, and one which was set up against the racial struggles in America at the time.
In the first minute of the film, we are given about all of the history we need to understand the racial conflict between white Australians and Aboriginals: they weren’t recognized as anything other than “flora and fauna” until the early ’70s, and before that, the lighter-skinned Aboriginals were taken from their families–“stolen,” was the term used by the tribes themselves–and raised in white Australia to try to help wipe out their culture.
We’re introduced to three sisters, all of whom grew up singing, and they go into the nearby town to try out for a talent show that Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd)–an Irish soul musician/producer wannabe–is holding in a pub. The sisters clearly win the contest with an American country tune, but because of their race are not given the win by the white owner of the pub. But the girls talk Dave into taking them on and he gets them an audition to perform in Vietnam for the American Military.
They go to Melbourne, where they find their cousin, who was one of the stolen children, and convince her to join the group. They practive, then audition, and are sent to Vietnam to perform. While there, their act catches fire with the troops and a couple of music producers, and things look like they’re on their way to America to become stars, but when one of their last performances is attacked and Dave is shot, they end up deciding to head home.
This is an astoundingly light and heavy, simple and complicated, and comedic and loving story, all at the same time. The racial undertones are always there, but not stressed. And the characters are remarkably filled out while we haven’t been given much information about them–Dave’s a down-on-his luck drunk until he falls in love with Gail, Gail’s the protective older sister with the musical dream, Cynthia is the twice-jilted middle sister still devastated by the man who dumped her, Julie is the youngest sister with a baby at home, and Kay is the stolen cousin who is having a hard time finding her place in the “black” world of her cousins.
The movie is well written, straight-forward, and uncomplicated which makes it really easy and fun to watch. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.