The story of Aboriginal soul singers in The Sapphires hits closer to home than you might expect.
Three soul-singing sisters at the height of the civil rights era, a well-meaning but inexperienced manager who gets them their first tour, and an estranged cousin who joins the group after years of passing for White in the big city. The story may sound like one you’ve heard before, but, in The Sapphires, the manager is White, that big gig is in war-torn Vietnam, and the sisters? They’re Aboriginal Australians.
Although the Aborigines, or indigenous Australians, were believed to have Asian and European blood, a recent study proved that these first Australians were, in fact, descended from Africa. After centuries of being displaced and marginalized by British settlers, Aborigines finally gained full voting rights in 1967—two years after Black Americans saw similar gains and just around the time that the real-life Sapphires started chasing dreams of superstardom.
Writer/actor Tony Briggs, who based the movie on his mother and the group she fronted, said the fact that most African-Americans know nothing about their brothers and sisters down under is one reason the film is so important.
He told S2S at the New York premiere, “I want the world to know that, as far as my country is concerned, Aboriginal people have contributed to the very fabric of what’s great about Australia for generations–for many, many generations. And this is just a very small part of the telling of that story.”
The film deals honestly with the racism of the day, but don’t expect to leave the theater depressed. With hits from The Jackson 5, The Staple Singers and more, plus a strong focus on family, this tale is “a celebration,” Tony said.
“In a lot of respects, our history is not that dissimilar to American history,” he contends. “You know, the bad bits, if you like, but also the great bits.”
The Sapphires opens in New York and Los Angeles today, March 22. It opens in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, D.C. and Philadelphia on March 29, and it goes nationwide on April 5.