by Lauren McBride

As an African-American woman, I have seen my fair share of films about the Civil Rights Movement. The America of the 1960s, torn apart by racism, sexism and a violent war, is well documented in film. The names, faces and perspectives that populate these films are rarely unique, but always poignant. It’s a history that America, white and black, constantly re-lives — perhaps in an effort to come to terms with its horrors or to prematurely congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come. Either way, it’s rare to see a film that frames the Civil Rights Movement in a global perspective — that reminds its viewers that the message of the movement’s leaders reached far beyond the molehills of Mississippi and the slopes of California. For some, it reached all the way to shores of Melbourne, Australia.

The Sapphires tells the true story of three Aboriginal sisters and their fairer-skinned cousin who venture to Vietnam in 1968 to perform soul music for African-American troops. The film was powerful and dramatic at times, and hilarious and exciting at others. It brilliantly bears the weight of its place in history. Watching The Sapphires and seeing a similar struggle happen thousands of miles away at the very same moment makes it difficult to divorce the two histories: the struggle of African-Americans in the US, and that of Aborigines in Australia. As the film plays out it’s clear that the blending of histories and depiction of a shared experience is precisely what Wayne Blair intends. In some ways, it’s where the film succeeds the most.

It also shines is in the development of its characters and the performance of its stars. Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell), Julie (Jessica Mauboy) and Kay (Shari Sebbens) master the sisterly dynamic — with its complex mix of love, jealousy, and a deep sense of responsibility. Chris O’Dowd’s Dave is completely flawless. O’Dowd, known to American audiences from his turns in Bridesmaids and a 5-episode arc in HBO’s Girls, is both hilariously tragic and totally transfixing.

While The Sapphires does have its occasional trite moments, it remains a must-see. Audiences will walk away with the songs of Marvin Gaye and James Brown swimming in their heads, and the words of Dr. Martin Luther King echoing in their hearts.

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