June 27, 2011

Happy Monday. Nice morning here after a fairly soggy weekend. The land is looking boggy and lush. The river is high.

We watched the Australian movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence” (2002), which tells the story (“based on a true story”) of three young “half-caste” Aborigine girls who are taken from their mother in 1931 and sent to a government school 2000 km away at Moore River to be trained as domestic workers. The rationale was that children of (usually) white fathers and Aborigine mothers might demand the same rights that whites had, which would be a problem. Besides, there was a need for educated domestic labor to take advantage of. It’s probably more complicated than that, but anyway, the three girls escape from the school after a short time there and walk back to their home village of Jigalong far to the northeast. They find their way by following the “rabbit-proof fence” that crossed Western Australia north-south, erected to keep rabbits away from agricultural fields. The girls are tracked, of course, because others have escaped and then been caught and put in solitary confinement to teach them the benevolence of white society. The tracker is an Aborigine man who is an expert tracker but seems not to want very much to catch the girls. The girls are 12, 8 and 6. The girl who plays 12-year-old Molly has great charisma on the screen. She uses her knowledge of living in the Outback to cover their tracks, but they have to show themselves occasionally to find food. The strangers they meet along the way are the usual mix of kind and not so.

The DVD of the film has an interesting documentary about making the film. The girls were selected after a long search for Aboriginal girls without acting experience but with screen presence. Such extras are often fluff, but this is pretty absorbing. The children who were taken from their parents during the decades when this was official government policy (1918-1951) are known as The Stolen Generations. The parallel in America’s BIA schools is easy to see. The acting is good, with Kenneth Branagh convincing as the eugenics obsessed head of the schools program. He also narrates the documentary. Well worth watching. Ebert gave it 3.5 stars out of 4 and the viewers’ tomatometer reading is 87. There has been controversy over the historical accuracy of the film, which presents an opportunity to learn more about how aboriginal peoples were treated by those who invaded their homeland.


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