Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) *English language film with some native Aboriginal subtitles

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Foreign | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Tear-jerking racism (and presumed rape) beyond imagination.

No doubt you’ve read all about the Holocaust in school, so the devastation detailed in Schindler’s List probably wasn’t a surprise. You’ve probably at least heard about genocide, so Hotel Rwanda wasn’t entirely new. But unless you’ve seen this film, I highly doubt you’ve heard much about the irreparable damage still felt by an entire culture due to acts not unlike slavery, which was abolished a century before this was. Rabbit-Proof Fence is an anecdotal experience that defined Australia’s “stolen generation” in the same way that Anne Frank’s did for the Holocaust. The atrocity here involves mixed-race children taken from their parents and transformed into domestic servants for 60 years.

Based on the book by one of the heroine’s daughters, Doris Pilkington, this Australian production follows the true story of three Aboriginal girls that resisted the supremacist policy by escaping a camp and venturing 1,200 miles back home in 1931. Our heroines, Molly, Gracie, and Daisy, live with their family in Jigalong, a desert village where white officials run a station and ration supplies. Their white fathers were construction workers or officials that had their way with the native women and moved on.

Always seen from a low angle Rabbit2(to make him a towering figure), A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh) is the chief protector and legal guardian of the Aborigines. His duties include permitting or denying interracial marriages and visitation rights for parents to visit their children and, above all, removing mixed-race children from their families in accordance with the Aborigines Act. The justification for this practice, Neville explains, is so they can properly absorb blacks into the white populations and, over several generations, stamp out their culture and “blackness” in one fell swoop.

“Are we to allow the creation of an unwanted third race?” he asks. “The problem with half-castes is not simply going to go away. If it’s not dealt with now, it will fester for years to come.”

The girls’ mothers and grandmother resist their capture as long as possible – “You tell that Mr. Devil, if he wants half-caste kid, he makes his own” – but police eventually run them down and ship them off to the camp. Their plight at the camp includes forced Christianity and English – meaning the abandonment of their language and religion – with the promise of one day having the opportunity to serve a white family. Though an expert tracker (Walkabout’s David Gulpill) always finds the runaways, who are then whipped and beaten, the girls depend on rain and their wits to escape. They get some help along the way (from hunters, campers, farmers, and a slave), but their unwavering determination deserves most of the credit for their nine-week trip that bested the police and Neville’s entire department.

Director Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American, Clear and Present Danger), an Aussie himself, has never made a better film and doesn’t belittle the Aborigines by making them appear primitive or savage, like so many other films. His efforts – and those respectably provided by the non-actor Aborigines Evelyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, and Laura Monahan – earned 10 Australian Film Institute nominations including wins for best film sound and Peter Gabriel’s score. In his excellent assessment of the film, which he compared to De Sica’s Italian Neo-Realism classic The Bicycle Thieves, Sukhdev Sandhu of Britain’s Daily Telegraph credited Noyce with carefully balancing the historical context (including social, political, and philosophical foundations) to the barbarous legislation without making it feel like an educational video.

“Helped by Christopher Doyle, Rabbit3one of the greatest cameramen in the world today, (Noyce) dispenses with dialogue and lets desert landscape express the pain of (the girls),” he wrote. “Most of all, the silence of the film lets us hear our own fury mount, so much so in fact that timorous governments in Australia, still blind to the scale and depth of the suffering they have inflicted on their Aboriginal populations, have spent millions of dollars urging audiences to boycott the movie.”

It wasn’t only the government that was enraged by the film, but some questioned the historical accuracy such as columnist Andrew Bolt, of Australia’s Herald Sun, who challenged the camp conditions and police chase. Despite the contention, the raw emotional power of the film remains and six years after the film’s release, on Feb. 13, 2008, the Australian government submitted a formal apology.

Though the girls’ story is one of success, our feelings of rejoice are stamped out by the more astonishing information that comes in the final minutes, when we see the real-life sisters as they are in 2002. A title card reads: “Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families throughout Australia until 1970.” Though it’s the last thing you see, it’s likely the first thing you’ll remember.

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