Baz Luhrmann’s new film is set in the late 1930s in remote northern Australia.
Luhrmann has styled Australia as an old-fashioned Hollywood epic, based on a love story between British aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley and a drover – a horseman who works driving cattle across the outback.
Together they adopt Nullah, a young Aboriginal boy who lives on the cattle station she owns.
Luhrmann has produced a melodrama. While the film is entertaining, the plot is predictable and it stereotypes Aboriginal people.
King George, the only vaguely traditional Aboriginal in the film, is presented as a relic from the past. His only real character trait is that he has magical powers.
The film is intended to be in the spirit of reconciliation between Aboriginal Australians and the white population.
It presents the pain and suffering that resulted from the “stolen generations” policy, where the government took Aboriginal children like Nullah from their parents to try to assimilate them into white society.
But it also airbrushes out some of the worst racism of the period – such as the treatment of Aboriginal horsemen. Most received only rations as pay for working 12 hour days.
Australia presents racism as the result of individual bigotry, implying that if “good whites”, such as the drover or Lady Ashley, had been listened to, abuses would never have happened.
The film is an exercise in nationalist mythology, asserting that racism in the country is a thing of the past.
It fits well with Kevin Rudd’s Labour government new mainstream narrative about colonisation. Labour has formally apologised to the stolen generations, but continues with policies aimed at assimilation.
James Supple writes for Solidarity in Australia