The original singing group that inspired the award-winning Australian film The Sapphires have struck out at American distributors for their ‘racist’ marketing of the film and calling for a boycott of the American home release, as Daily Life reports.
The Australian film – based on the real-life story of the Indigenous quartet of soul singers who overcame bigotry in Vietnam-era Australia – is due for release on DVD and BluRay in America this week, but the real-life Sapphires have launched an angry attack on the US distributor Anchor Bay for its ill-chosen cover for the release that “completely misses the point.”
The US cover for The Sapphires relegates the four Aboriginal female protagonists as monochromatic figures in the background, while placing an image of Irish actor Chris O’Dowd – who plays the vocal group’s manager in the film – front and centre.
(A comparison between the US and Australian covers of the DVD release)
The real-life Sapphires – Naomi Mayers, Beverly Briggs, Lois Peeler and Laurel Robinson – have written to US lobby group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, calling for support over the ‘racist’ cover.
“As I’m sure you can appreciate, the treatment of people of colour in Australia mirrored much of the trauma to which people in the United States were subjected,” reads the letter. “That trauma – and much of that treatment – remains alive and well in Australia today, as I know it does in the United States. The US cover of the DVD completely misses this point, and in fact reinforces precisely the sort of bigotry that Naomi, Beverly, Lois and Laurel fought so hard against,” it continues. “It’s ridiculous, it’s misleading, ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn’t.” – Chris O’Dowd
“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.”
The letter was issued by the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, where Sapphire members Ms Briggs and Ms Robinson work, and which Naomi Mayers holds the title of Chief Executive.
Ms Mayers further explains that the US marketing for The Sapphires is an insult to the themes that the film is attempting to highlight. “What has upset us is that the DVD cover appears to miss that point [of the film] entirely,” she said.
“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,” Ms Mayers added.
Chris O’Dowd, who plays manager Dave Lovelace in the film, noted his displeasure with the US DVD that promotes his character as the cover star, responding to the backlash over Anchor Bay’s marketing on twitter saying: “Yup, that’s pretty vile. Certainly not my choice.”
In another calling for his opinion he said: “It’s ridiculous, it’s misleading, ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn’t.” The tweets have since been removed, as The Australian points out, while an online petition to have the US cover changed has sprung up on Change.org, which has already earned over 5,000 signatories.
The Sapphires not only beat out Hollywood major motion pictures at the box office upon its release, eventually earning $20 million globally, but its accompanying soundtrack was one of 2012’s best-selling releases according to ARIA’s sales figures.
The film, which stars Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell as the titular singing group that travel to Vietnam to entertain the troops, scooped 11 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards, including the Best Film and Best Director categories for Wayne Blair.
“We are very proud of our work with The Sapphires and we are proud of the film,” said Naomi Mayers. “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.”