The Sapphires US DVD Cover Relegates Black Female Stars to Background


The Sapphires is an award-winning Australian film about four Aboriginal women who struggled against — and overcame — rampant sexism and racism in the 1960s and 70s in order to form a soul quartet. It’s now being released in the United States, which is great, but its shitty new DVD cover has incited ire and criticism.

For some reason (i.e., the same systemic forces of sexism and racism that provide the central conflict of the film), The Sapphires‘s American cover imagery has the actresses who portray the Sapphires blurred into a pale blue background, while Chris O’Dowd — who plays their white manager — is foregrounded in full color. Perhaps even more insultingly, O’Dowd’s name is the only one to appear on the U.S. DVD cover.

In the Australian cover, the actresses playing the quartet — Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell — are featured prominently; Chris O’Dowd is smiling behind them. The difference between the two cover images is striking; in the American version, the women appear to be O’Dowd’s backup singers. As MaryAnn Johanson put it on

The Sapphires is the story of four young Australian women who form a singing group and travel to Vietnam in the 1960s to entertain the American troops there. Their new manager, who is along for the ride, is indeed a white man. The women are Aborigines. They are black black black black blackety-black black. Not blue. Oh, and they’re women. And this is their story. It’s even a true story… So why are they shoved into the background, the color of their skin disguised by that blue monotone?

Last week O’Dowd expressed his distaste for the new DVD cover on Twitter, writing, “it’s ridiculous, it’s misleading, it’s ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn’t.” Yep, pretty much, since the film is about striving to overcome sexism and racism. The original Sapphires (Naomi Mayers, Beverly Briggs, Lois Peeler, and Laurel Robinson) have also joined in on the protest, calling on the NAACP to advocate for them. In a letter sent to the NAACP on the Sapphires’ behalf, Sol Bellear, the chairman of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, wrote:

As I’m sure you can appreciate, the treatment of people of colour in Australia mirrored much of the trauma to which people in the United States were subjected. That trauma — and much of that treatment — remains alive and well in Australia today, as I know it does in the United States.
The US cover of the DVD completely misses this point, and in fact reinforces precisely the sort of bigotry that Naomi, Beverly, Lois and Laurel fought so hard against.

Ms. Mayers, who is now the chief executive of the Redfern AMS, adds that the cover is “disrespectful to the very talented young Aboriginal actors in the film, and it’s disrespectful to us as a group.” In particular, however, it’s “disrespectful to women of colour everywhere who have stood up against this sort of thing all their lives.”

A petition calling on Anchor Bay, the U.S. distributor, to change to the cover has already garnered over 10,000 signatures.

“The Original ‘Sapphires’ Join Protest Over Sexist, Racist DVD Cover” [Colorlines]
Images via Hopscotch Films and Anchor Bay.

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