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The Sapphires

Movies

Issue: "Coming to America," April 6, 2013

The 1960s were a time of racial turmoil in America, but there was one medium that transcended class, culture, and race. That medium was music. Motown was in its glory day. Groups like the Supremes and the Temptations were world famous. Their musical influence reached as far as Australia, where the Aboriginal people were battling their own racial troubles. That struggle, told through the eyes of four Aboriginal young women, is the basis for The Sapphires.

The story begins in a rural Australian mission in 1958 when state officials arrive to look for fair-skinned children to remove from their families and place in white homes or religious institutions. (These children became known as the “Lost” or “Stolen Generation.”) The surprise visit throws the mission into chaos and interrupts a concert given by four little girls, singing in beautiful harmony.

Fast-forward 10 years to 1968. The girls are grown and ready to participate in a singing competition. They have the best voices, hands down, but lose the contest because they’re black.

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Washed-up piano player Dave Lovelies (Chris O’Dowd) is the only one who recognizes their talent. He helps them get an audition as performers for the American troops in Vietnam and teaches them how to be soul singers, despite the reluctance of the eldest sister and group leader, Gail (Deborah Mailman). 

They make the audition and head to Vietnam, completely ignorant of the tumultuous world awaiting them. During their tour, they come face-to-face with the brutalities of war, their own family struggles, and their broken relationships with each other. 

Two of the girls have a casual view of sex and childbearing, and there’s enough language and kissing to give the movie its PG-13 rating. Nevertheless, the film has no scenes of nudity, on-camera drug use, or domestic violence, and there is a strong emphasis on the importance of family and the role of parents. Thanks to irresistibly contagious music and a tolerably interesting plot, The Sapphires is a good girls’ night out or date night choice. 

Stephanie Perrault
Stephanie Perrault

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