Movies that Expose Historic Discrimination

Over the last few decades, mainstream international cinema has tentatively stepped into a, generally, rather wonderful practice of illuminating, both through heritage films and through popular genres like war films, a nations unwillingness to confront its colonial past and post-colonial present. At certain key moments since the mid 1980s filmmakers from the periphery in-particular have successfully addressed the historic tensions effecting people's lives (especially those of minorities) in their respective nations. Does this suggest that there is a new, wider interest in historic social issues as valid subject matters for films and that such subject matters potentially challenges hegemonic assumptions about national identity?

Days of Glory (2006)

Rachid Bouchareb's 'Days of Glory' is one of those rare films which brought about specific political change with one particular historic movie. He made a second world war drama telling the almost forgotten about story of the gallant sacrifices made by indigènes, or native forces, from the French north African colonies. Troops from Algeria, Tunis and Morocco gave their lives for a motherland most had never seen before, but the surviving old soldiers had their pensions cancelled when their countries gained independence 15 years later.

After President Chirac attended the premiere, he set about changing the law, though not yet to the extent of making retrospective payments.

Using an identifiable band of brothers style, Bouchareb centres on four men: Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), Yassir (Samy Naceri), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) and their de facto leader, the serious and ambitious soldier Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila). When their entire unit is almost wiped out, it is Abdelkader who decides to lead his four-man platoon in an idealistic adventure with the promise of recognition for their bravery: to struggle on, alone, in a mission to reinforce the Americans at Alsace, and show France that the "native" soldiers deserve respect. It's a double symbolism. They will help to liberate the territory most viciously disputed between France and Germany, and engage in a glorious Hollywood-style gunfight.

There is no sense of achievement, the survivors are cruelly ignored by their superiors, but there is a much well-earned self-respect in the final scene where 60 years later, one of their number returns to see his comrades' graves in a military cemetery in Alsace. A title then indicates that the pensions for which the many survivors risked their lives were frozen in 1959 on the eve of France’s granting of independence to its African colonies; by 2006, the amount was only one-third that of non-Moslems. The next title indicates that in 1992 parliament voted to restore full pensions to the veterans but that the French bureaucracy has never done so. However, after President Jacques Chirac and his wife previewed the film, she asked him to make a response; on the opening day of the film in France, Chirac ordered restoration of the pension to some 80,000 surviving veterans. Speaking to French film viewers, the director clearly indicates that France also owes an unpaid debt of gratitude to the North Africans instead of continuing to treat them as second class citizens inside France.

The Rabbit Proof Fence (2004)

Written by Doris Pilkington, the daughter of the oldest girl, Molly, the story traces the traumatic uprooting of the three sisters from their community in North-western Australia. Following a government edict in 1931, aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up and brought to settlements where they were to be disciplined into abandoning their aboriginal heritage, and taught to be culturally white. After catching this film accidentally one evening I went straight out the following morning and bought the best book I could find on the 'Stolen Generations'.

Having been forcibly separated from their natural mothers, three girls - Molly , Daisy and Gracie escape from the Moore River Native Settlement, presided over by the 'Commissioner for Native Affairs' A.O. Neville (Ken Branagh). With an epic journey ahead of them, the girls set out to find their way back home by following the rabbit-proof fence that stretches across the Outback.
Cutting back and forth between the children's journey and Neville's increasingly desperate attempts to capture them, Noyce's sensitive dramatization swaps angry politics for emotional sympathy, concentrating on the plight of the children instead of ranting against the authorities. By highlighting the realities of this hidden genocide (unbelievably, the policy continued in some places until the early 70s), 'Rabbit-Proof Fence' stands as a powerful, worthy testimony to the suffering of the stolen generations.

The film stirred heavy debate over the historical accuracy of the claims of the Stolen Generation. Some have criticised the portrayal of Neville in the film, arguing that he was inaccurately represented as paternalistic and racist, and the film's generally rosy portrayal of the girls' situation prior to their removal from their parents. Some historians have questioned the artistic portrayal in the film of the girls as prisoners in prison garb. They claimed that, in fact, they would have been dressed in European clothes, as shown in contemporary photos, and tracked by concerned adults fearful for their welfare. It is claimed that when Molly Craig, whose journey was being told, saw the film, she stated that it was "not my story". However, she clarified that statement by saying her story still continued into her adult life and was not nicely resolved as the film's ending made it appear.

On 13 February 2008 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to the Stolen Generations, passed by both houses of the Parliament of Australia.

If you're interested in this particular issue another must see film on the subject is the 1983 documentary 'Lousy Little Sixpence'. Directed and produced by Alec Morgan, it won several international and Australian awards. Despite this, it took two years for the government-run Australian Broadcasting Corporation to be convinced to broadcast it. It is now standard fare in educational institutions, and has been highly influential.