• Scene from Samson and Delilah, starring Rowan McNamara. (CAAMA Productions)Source: CAAMA Productions
From poverty to racism, stolen generations and connection to land, the magic of movie-making have given audiences a powerful insight into the issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Emily Nicol

19 Jul 2017 - 3:12 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2017 - 3:12 PM

1. Samson & Delilah

Warwick Thornton's critically acclaimed feature debut about young love in a remote town is a subtly powerful and at times heart-wrenching look at the reality of life for two teens growing up in an isolated community in the Central Australian desert.

The two leads, Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson), barely speak throughout the film but what is played out around their unique courtship tells a story of an unseen world for many, but a painful and inescapable reality for some. Petrol sniffing, poverty, and the romanticising and parallel devaluing of Aboriginal culture by the outside world is revealed through incredibly realistic performances from the cast.

This is a beautifully shot, landmark film that brought important issues to the forefront. At the time of release, among wide critical acclaim, Thornton when interviewed said that his ambition was to simply make an important movie for his mob and was surprised at the response that it received.

"It’s interesting because as soon as you knock down that black wall between Aboriginals and white Australia, a film like this does become an Australian film and an Australian story. Not an Aboriginal story but a story about Australians, in a sense. It’s just as much a white story as it is a black one when you get to that position."


2. Mabo

The Mabo Decision is one that is familiar to many, if not most Australians, but underneath the victory of the overturning of the Terra Nullius fiction is a beautiful love story, the untimely passing of Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo and a family that live on with the legacy of the Mabo name.

Starring Jimi Bani as Eddie Mabo and Deborah Mailman as Bonita Mabo, the love of Eddie's life and mother to their 10 children, the film 'Mabo' shows audiences the other side of the legal battle - what family, culture and connection meant to Koiki and how this fueled the fight to have the legacy of land, ownership and care continue for his people.

Bringing to life the not so distant past reality of racial segregation and the intrusion of white management and authority in Indigenous communities, with scenes of Eddie being denied entry to Murray Island to visit his dying father, and being refused service in whites-only bar, Mabo is a story that opened up a wider view to audiences of a lifetime of struggle and refusal to sit down in the face of injustice.

Speaking to The Australian, director Rachel Perkins, daughter of the late Aboriginal activist, Charlie Perkins reflected on her own connection to the toll such action can take. "This is the classic David and Goliath struggle. I grew up in an activist family, so I know a little about how much personal sacrifice can go into a struggle."


3. Rabbit Proof Fence

Set in 1931, Rabbit Proof Fence is an internationally acclaimed portrayal of the power of love and survival for those that endured the pain of stolen generation. Overlaid with the patronising voice over of the government policy of integrating 'half-caste' Aboriginal children, the story follows three Aboriginal sisters who escape their bording house after being taken from their homes to be trained as domestic staff or slaves.

Directed by Philip Noyce, the Hollywood-style blockbuster introduced an international audience the reality of Australia's stolen generations, a system which continues to this day.


4. Goldstone

Directed by Ivan Sen, this crime thriller, sequel to Mystery Road starring Aaron Pedersen, uncovers the corruption and underhanded motives of mining companies, highlighting the current day issue in many communities trying to stem the tide of money for land that threatens cohesion and continuing of culture.

Bribery and manipulation push this story along and it opens up the controversial reality of those at the top being brought out with money in exchange for land council approval. With cases such as Adani and Carmichael Mine being controversially settled with the involvement of government, Goldstone reveals a common struggle for many in the Aboriginal community. Speaking at the film's opening, Sen said that the film is 'addressing complex issues that are often glossed over by mainstream media.'


5. Jedda

This 1955 feature by Charles Chauvel was the first Australian feature film to use Aboriginal actors in the lead roles and the first to be filmed in colour. After the death of her baby, white woman Sarah McCann, takes a young Aboriginal girl as a surrogate child, naming her Jedda. Subsequently removed from her family and culture, Jedda is fascinated by Marbuck, a young Aboriginal man that comes looking for work and together the two go back, Jedda unwillingly, to Marbucks tribe, only to be shunned for breaking traditional marriage customs. With a tragic end, this film,  co-written by Charles and his wife Elsa was a first for many Australian viewers, telling the story of tradition, custom and law within Aboriginal communities and the trauma that isolation and removal from family and culture can have. 

Warwick Thornton's We Don't Need A Map  - a story of the Southern Cross; its history and culture - is a part of the #YouAreHere documentary series on SBS & NITV. It premiers on NITV this Sunday, 23 June at 8.30pm on NITV Ch. 34.

Watch Samson and Delilah On Demand here

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