Australia, Bran Nue Dae and the Stolen Generation Essay
Question 2: Luhrmann’s Australia and Perkins’ Bran Nue Dae could be said to approach the apology to the Stolen Generations from different perspective. Discuss with reference to style.
Director Baz Luhrmann and Director Rachel Perkins both addressed Australia’s cruel and racist history and the aboriginal’s Stolen Generation in Australia and Bran Nue Dae, respectively. Both films follow the lead of Australian government and made an effort to apologize the Stolen Generation. Unfortunately, neither Australia nor Bran Nue Dae was entirely effective in their apology to the Stolen Generation. While they both had good intentions, those intentions were not successfully executed. Both film show promise and realize some of their goals, they still fall short in many aspects. It’s argued that Australia was “fraudulent and misleading” (Greer) while Bran Nue Dae “makes light of [the]…mistreatment of Aboriginal people.” (Howell) Luhrmann’s film Australia approaches the apology to the Stolen Generation through drama and romance. The film is about an English aristocrat who inherits a ranch and the cattle driver who helps her protect her property from English cattle barons. Australia demonstrates some of the hardships that the Aboriginal people had to face during the World War I era in Australia.
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However, Germaine Greer claims that Australia “bears more relation to fairytale than fact.” Greer goes on to say that “the fantasy is designed to promote the current government policy of reconciliation.” The fallacies and myths portrayed in the film truly hinders Luhrmann’s attempt at the apology to the Stolen Generation. While Luhrmann makes a substantial effort at the apology, she seemingly looks at Australia’s hard past through rose-colored glasses. She over exaggerates the kindness and openness that Drover and Lady Sarah would have toward the Aboriginal people during this time. These softer hearted characters make the hardship of the Aboriginal people seem easier than they actually would have been. If Luhrmann didn’t make Lady Sarah and Drover so welcoming and accepting of the Aboriginal people from the beginning of the film, the apology would have been better executed. Greer may be right in that Drover would not have been as ostracized as he was in the film, he would have had more riders to herd the cattle and Nullah would not have been raised by Lady Sarah; but Greer places too much importance on the historical facts.
Australia is a piece of fiction that Luhrmann uses to convey a message of regret and sorrow for Australia’s history of Aboriginal abuse. It is not intended to be a documentary, but a work of art to express a mournful sentiment. It is not as important that Lady Sarah was unlikely to be so forward-thinking and open-minded at the time or that Drover would not be an outcast for having married an Aboriginal woman, but that the mistreatment of Aboriginal people is acknowledged and condemned. Even though characters like Lady Sarah and Drover are highly idealized, the right sentiment is still there. While Luhrmann’s attempt at apologizing to the Stolen Generation was no perfectly executed, it was fairly successful overall. Perkins’ takes a completely different approach in Bran Nue Dae. In this wacky and satirical musical, Perkins tells the story of Willie, an Aboriginal boy, who runs away from a strict boarding school to be with his love, Rosie, with the help of a homeless man and two hippies.
This film’s way of addressing the apology to the Stolen Generation could not be more different from Australia. Perkins heavily mocks and parodies the stereotypes of whitefellas and aborigines. Bran Nue Dae “follows the maxim that satire defeats racism” (O’Sullivan). Perkins intends to apologize by overemphasizing the stereotypes of both races in order to show the audience just how ludicrous and out of place these stereotypes are to begin with. This approach is only mildly successful in reverting the stereotypes against both Aboriginal and white people and even less successful in its attempt at the apology to the Stolen Generation.
Perkins overuses mockery and parody which makes it seem as though she is making light of a very serious history of abuse and mistreatment toward Aboriginal people. Peter Howell even suggests that the mockery of stereotypes and the “portrayal of Aborigines as dim-witted dunderers, dancing fools, thieves and drunks” reinforces stereotypes rather than breaks of them. Perkins spent too much effort on trying to making the film fun– making the film overly so and lacking on plot and character development. The absence of real threat in the plot and character development makes Bran Nue Dae less relatable to the audience that its potential. (O’Sullivan) Due to the triviality of the plot and characters, the apology is not very well portrayed. Bran Nue Dae is too playful and silly to be taken too seriously as an apology to the Stolen Generation.
However, Richard Nilsen believes that Ernie Dingo’s character, Uncle Tadpole, is “the most interesting character in the film” and “fleshed out beyond plot necessity.” Nilsen contends that Bran Nue Dae avoided the cliché of “Magic Negroes” and “huge Black men can improve life for white guys through special juju.” Nilsen makes some valid points about Uncle Tadpole overcoming the Aboriginal stereotype, but the character is not quite as developed as claims him to be. Perkins escapes the magical Aboriginal pigeonhole by mocking it, as she does with all other stereotypes throughout the film. She is the most successful in parodying stereotypes in two instances, both with Uncle Tadpole.
The first instance is when the hippies are driving away; Uncle Tadpole points a bone at the car and then the van breaks down. Uncle Tadpole is just as shocked as the audience when it actually works and says “I must really be a magic man.” The second instance is shortly after when Uncle Tadpole fixes the spare tire with a snakeskin, the joke is that there is nothing truly indigenous about the repair, he is just being resourceful. By making Uncle Tadpole’s “magic man” qualities surprising to himself and not glorifying it in the film, Perkins effectively overcomes the magical Aboriginal stereotype.
Australia and Bran Nue Dae both make valiant attempts at the apology to Stolen Generation and both have good intentions, but neither is entirely successful. Australia shows the adversity and suffering of the Aboriginal people, even if some aspects are lighter than they were likely to have been. While Bran Nue Dae humanizes the Aboriginal people and denounces some of the common stereotypes, even if it is slightly over the top and not entirely successful in its endeavor. However, overall Australia was a more successful film than Bran Nue Dae in its perspective and approach to the apology to the Stolen Generation.
Greer, Germaine. “Once upon a time in a land, far, far away.” Rev. of Australia. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. The Guardian 15 December 2008. Howell, Peter. “Bran Nue Dae: Tie me dancing fool down, sport.” Rev. of Bran Nue Dae, Dir. Rachel Perkins. Toronto Star 23 September 2010. Nilsen, Richard. “Bran Nue Dae” Rev. of Bran Nue Dae. Dir. Rachel Perkins. The Arizona Republic 23 September 2010 O’Sullivan, Michael. “A musical romp to nowhere.” Rev. of Bran Nue Dae. Dir. Rachel Perkins. The Washington Post 10 September 2010.
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