Opening nationwide April 5, The Sapphires is based on the true story of the Aboriginal Australian girl group who performed soul and R&B hits for American troops during the Vietnam War.
Australian Idol’s Jessica Mauboy plays lead singer Julie and sang all of the songs, including a soul-stirring version of the Jackson 5 classic “Who’s Loving You.”
“Oh God, you don’t understand,” she told Sister 2 Sister at the New York premiere. “I was sitting in the chair going, ‘I don’t think I can do this song.’ This song I respect so much in my heart, and I just want to make it as good as possible but not go overboard.”
Shari Sebbens, who has Aboriginal ancestry, said playing the light-skinned Kay who is estranged from her darker-skinned family was a dream role considering Australia’s similarly rocky relationship with its native people.
“Indigenous Australian stories were being told quite often with a non-indigenous person at the helm,” Shari explained. “So, those stories just weren’t being told. And I thought my whole life, it’d be up to me to write them or my peers to write them, and then, suddenly my first year out of acting school, Sapphires lands in my lap.”
Veteran Aboriginal actress Deborah Mailman plays the tough-talking older sister Gail.
“I think in the past Aboriginal films, and rightly so, have been very centered on that hard and depressing place that is our history,” said Mailman. “And so now a film like this shifts that and allows our story to be told in a very humorous way, in a very musical way.”
Hopefully, said Deborah, the early buzz and success of The Sapphires will create even more opportunities for Aboriginal talent on the big screen.
“We don’t want to be defined by anybody,” she stated, “We define ourselves.”