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In Prospect Bay, a remote outpost on the South Australian coast, two communities, the Goonyas and the Nungas, come together on the one field they have in common, the football field. But the underlying racism and class warfare threatens to make the team's greatest victories irrelevant. This holds particularly true for Blacky, a white teen who is more interested in books than sport, and his best friend, Dumby, the Aboriginal star of the team.
Strong debut feature marred by lack of consultation
Paul Goldman's debut feature film 'australian rules' is a thought-provoking film about racism and relationships. It is an accomplished work, with beautiful but never flashy cinematography by DOP Mandy Walker (Lantana, Love Serenade) and strong performances by its cast, including Nathan Phillips as the young protagonist Blacky, Luke Carroll as his Aboriginal best mate Dumby Red, and Celia Ireland as Blacky's mother.
Sadly, the film-makers' lack of consultation with the indigenous community of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia has resulted in significant - and to my mind well-founded - criticism of the film. Based on the young adult novel 'Deadly, Unna' by Phillip Gwynne, the film is based on actual events - the deaths of two young Aboriginal youths in 1977, shot and killed by the publican of a hotel they were attempting to rob. No mention of this is made in the credits of 'australian rules'.
The film contains characters and scenes recognisable and identifiable to the families of the dead youths. Consultation with these families should have taken place from the moment the book was mooted as a film, not - as happened
when the film was already in production. This lack of
consultation/awareness of Aboriginal culture and its sensitivities concerning death, mars what is otherwise a good film, leaving the film-makers open to allegations of racism.
Is 'australian rules' a racist film? I don't think so. Racist characters and phrases in the film go unchallenged, yes, but hopefully audiences are intelligent enough to see the truth for themselves, without needing clumsy and obvious cinematic signposting from characters or the film-makers saying 'this is bad'.
Overall, I recommend 'australian rules' to viewers, but I wish that the film-makers had shown more respect towards our indigenous culture rather than riding roughshod over the grief of the families involved.
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