Once a year, if I’m lucky, a movie teaches me something about myself. The Sapphires, a new film playing at Champaign’s Art Theater Co-op, taught me about what courage truly can mean when one is following a dream.
The Sapphires tells the real-life story of four young Aboriginal Australian women who learn about love, friendship, courage, and sacrifice when the girl group they have formed hits “the big time” and is subsequently invited to entertain the troops in 1968-era Vietnam.
The main reason this movie works is because of the casting. The leader and mother of the group is Gail (Deborah Mailman), who tells everything like it is. She never lets any of the other members of her group rest on the idea that they have singing talent (and all of them certainly do). She reminds them of where they came from and what they can accomplish despite the circumstances of their life. This is an especially important lesson for Kay (Sherri Sebbens), who is the outsider of the group because she can pass for, and has gained acceptance by those who are, Caucasian. Julie (Jessica Mauboy) needs neither to be protected nor lectured to; she just wants to keep all of the friendships with the people she grew up with.
Director Wayne Blair and his writers, Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson, do a stellar job of not forcing the music to be the focal point of the movie. The music is spectacular, by the way, but the creative minds behind this picture work very hard to let the time period be the star of the film. The segregation these women experience before and after they become successful is the centerpiece of the film. The locations feel like environments rather than set pieces that push the plot forward to the next song or emotional conflict. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
The discrimination these singers face is evident. One thing that is true of these characters, though, is that, despite such difficult challenges, they love their dream. Being in this group is less about ambition than keeping a family of friends together as they discover life. Friendship is as contentious a theme in this film as racial prejudice and segregation. And these actresses look, sound, and feel like friends. Every character in the movie feels completely real — organic and lived in. Nothing about the girls, their music, or their story feels forced or inauthentic.
I know that comparisons to 2006’s Dreamgirls will abound, but this is not that film. Instead, it is something I believe audiences will be equally as invested in if they choose to view it. Courage is an admirable trait and the four women in The Sapphires display it in abundance, while reminding the audience that courage is not just following a dream, but having the dream to begin with.
The Sapphires plays all this week at the Art Theater Co-op. Check out the trailer and catch a glimpse of why you should see this five-star film.