Friday, October 31, 2008

Buffy and the power within - Tallulah Grey

Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while it can be seen as a leader in the modern occult phenomenon, has also helped break down barriers and demolish stereotypes that have in the past severely damaged our views and beliefs. Buffy has become a source of power for many individuals and groups which had previously lacked either the strength, the will or the faith to stand up and be counted. Buffy is, in its very essence, counter-hegemonic: going against the tide in every way. Buffy Summers becomes a Patron Saint of feminine strength, and her best friend Willow becomes quite literally a Goddess.

The standard in television is usually a hero: a young man with some sort of power, whether it be intelligence, strength or the ability to breathe fire or jump back in time. This hero either works alone or with a small group of companions. Romantic entanglements are short-lived, especially for the romantic character, who often dies almost immediately after a relationship is begun. Villains are irredeemable, and sometimes in some way demonic. Buffy breaks the mould in many ways.

The hero is a heroine: a teenage girl gifted (or cursed) with the task of being the Slayer. Normally the Slayer is a one-man (or in this case woman) show, but Buffy has a group of friends who help her. Each of her friends embodies a different strength: Giles has the knowledge, Willow has the magic as well as the tech-savvies to hack into any system, Anya has the experience, Cordelia has the guts, and Xander has the heart. Buffy’s romantic relationships, while often ending in heartbreak and, on occasion, violent death, last for much longer than most television heroes seem to be able to manage. While Buffy’s villains are almost always literally demonized, they usually have a human aspect. In most cases, they love someone or something, and this leads to either their salvation or destruction. (Wilcox 3 – 17)

The article “Willow’s Queer Transformations on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by Susan Driver deals with issues of “coming of age, coming out, [and] becoming powerful.” (Driver 91) Using the character Willow Rosenberg as an example, Driver discusses lesbians in the media, or the lack thereof. Driver states that often in television, while male coming out plotlines can be drawn out and complex, lesbian characters get pushed to the backburner, getting ignored unless necessary for a bit of “erotic fascination”. (Driver 92) “On rare occasions when girls are portrayed, they become reduced to an immature phase of bisexual indecision”, (Driver 92) suggesting that the media is implying that teenage girls are less likely to have as much of a decisive will as their male companions. When Willow came out, teenage girls flocked to this new guide through a complex and confusing time in their lives. Willow’s relationships had as much screen time as the heterosexual relationships in Buffy, and she had just as much depth as, if not more than, any other main character. Her arc was overwhelmingly powerful. “Willow went from innocent and geeky and adorable to confident and intelligent, and then to frighteningly evil but still sexy, and then to unsure” (Driver 95) and from there to an all-powerful Goddess.

One of Willow’s most attractive aspects is her imperfection. In high school, she is not the sexy girl who stood out from the crowd. She’s just another teenager wearing dorky clothes, not knowing where her life is going to take her. A twenty-year old girl, Helen, is quoted in Driver’s article as to why a character like Willow is so necessary to the young queer community.

“I work at Taco Time. I don’t have a girlfriend, and haven’t in over three years. I wear normal, boring clothing and dirty shoes. I listen to Broadway musicals and obsess over TV shows. I love my friends, but don’t fall in love with them. Every person I’d like to be with doesn’t necessarily want me back, and vice versa. I have an accepting family where there is no drama whatsoever related to being gay. I’m not a sex object used to please the male viewers. I am a real person who happens to like girls.” (Driver 96)

Rather than waking up one morning to discover a new set of truths, Willow, like many other teenage girls, “become[s] ‘gay’ slowly and patiently, beyond the linear progression and finality.” (Driver 97) Again, this is important, as a realistic view of gay women helps to not only give young questioning women the confidence to believe in themselves and truly understand their feelings, but also to educate a society in which young lesbians are still often considered to be seeking attention, or just simply experimenting. Willow becomes a beacon of hope for a more accepting future.

Returning now to Buffy herself, it is easy to read the Slayer as a metaphor for female power. A beautiful, sassy young woman with super strength and a destiny, while being an attractive feature in any television program, becomes a symbol. “In Buffy, we see no heaven, no God, no Christ,” (Erickson, 114) just the demons and the girl here to save us. None of the main characters in Buffy are particularly religious. Buffy herself, although she has died and gone to what she thought might be heaven, is still unsure of the existence of any higher power. It is mentioned on occasion that Willow is Jewish, but as she delves further into the world of witchcraft this life is left behind and she becomes her own symbol of power. On occasion a character will quote the Bible, but it is almost always a demon or vampire doing so. Does this make a statement regarding fundamental religion, or perhaps those who are drawn to it? Religion is wisely ignored during Buffy whenever possible. While Buffy is a show that relies heavily on occult and religious imagery, there is never a need to shove these images down our throats, although at times Buffy may feel the need to shove one of these religious images, such as a crucifix, down a vampire’s throat.

Buffy has become a symbol of strength and power for those unable to stand up for themselves. Throughout so much of history, women have not had equal rights to men, and it is only in the past hundred years that this has begun to change. In our supposed enlightened and free western society, there are still many women who are downtrodden and controlled. Even some who do not realize it are manipulated by their families, friends or partners. They become less than their potential. Buffy gives us all the opportunity to take the power back, and to fight those who have crushed our spirits. Whether we’re men or women, straight, gay or undecided, black, white or purple, living or undead, Buffy shows us that we all have the power to be strong.


Driver, S. “Willow’s Queer Transformations on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: coming of age, coming out, becoming powerful.” in “Queer girls and popular culture: reading, resisting, and creating media”, New York, Peter Lang, 2007, ch.3 pp.91-126.
Erickson, G. “Sometimes you need a story: American Christianity, Vampires and Buffy” in “Fighting the Forces: what’s at stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Oxford, Rowman and Littlefield, 2002, pp. 108 – 119.
Pender, P. “Kicking Ass is Comfort Food”
Playden, Z. “What You Are, What’s to Come: feminisms, citizenship and the divine” in “Reading the vampire slayer: an unofficial critical companion to Buffy and Angel”, London, Tauris Parke, 2001, ch.6, pp.120-147.
Wilcox, V. “Who died and made her the boss? Patterns of Mortality in Buffy” in “Fighting the Forces: what’s at stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, Oxford, Rowman and Littlefield, 2002, pp. 3 – 17.

Popular Music, the Internet and Religious Identity

by Elina Arola

In this essay I attempt to shed some light on how religious identity is constructed through the use of popular music and the internet, and how religious (especially Christian) authorities use popular music to encourage young people to reach out to them. I will also briefly examine how Christian churches view popular music and its impact on the behaviour and attitudes of young people. My focus will be on heavy metal and Christian metal but my research references have material ranging from a variety of popular music genres (e.g. Stiles 2005). I intend to start with introducing different takes on identity construction by means of popular music and the internet, and then tying these together in an example of the transnational Christian metal scene as discussed by Moberg (2007, 2008). I will also critically examine the views asserted by Christian authorities on the values and morals they think metal music conveys, and those they wish to convey themselves, by using a similar musical aesthetic in their own evangelization.

Metal and Christianity

Metal has been a controversial genre ever since its emergence in the early 1970s and religious authorities have condemned its messages and ideologies as satanic and evil (e.g. Moberg 2008). The conflict between the Christian church and popular music has been discussed in various studies by e.g. Dyrendal (2008) and Cataldo (2005). Christianity has blamed metal music for turning adolescents to Satanism. Dyrendal debunks this by making a clear distinction between Satanism as a religion, and adolescent Satanism, or “devil-worshipping”. According to him, Christian authorities’ use of popular media (such as horror films and heavy metal imagery) to warn their members of the dangers of Satanism has turned against itself, making rebellion even more attractive. (Dyrendal 2008: 74-75). On the other hand, the popular music scene is frustrated with Christianity, as well. Cataldo examines the lyrics of several different musical acts (ranging from Disturbed and Metallica to Jewel and R.E.M.) to find signs of this frustration. Christianity in the United States is viewed by these artists to be “stumbling [in the] fulfilment of its social role”, and conveying conflicting messages when it preaches about love and understanding, but condemns various minorities and supports the government in its war pursuits. (Cataldo 2005).

According to Moberg, Christian metal emerged in the United States in the late 1970s as a way for Christian churches to evangelize to secular metal fans, and spread quickly to European countries with established secular metal scenes. One of the main characteristics of Christian metal is the way it has embraced the features (the musical and visual aesthetic) as well as the ideology behind secular metal (standing up for one’s values, not following authority figures etc.). The only notable musical difference between secular and Christian metal is the lyrical content of the songs. (2007: 427-428).

Stiles highlights the economic importance of contemporary Christian music (CCM) in his article Contemporary Christian Music: Public Relations amid Scandal. The industry has boomed especially since the 1980s when artists decided to start drawing influences from secular genres. This combined with a “self-supporting core fan base” has kept the industry afloat even through tough times. (Stiles 2005: 5-7). Luhr (2005) sets Christian metal in a larger framework of contemporary Christian music, and examines its political impact in her article. According to her, the main difference between Christian metal and other genres of CCM was that Christian metal bands played to secular audiences, while other bands and artists from other genres generally focused on people who already were believers (2005: 104).

Popular Music, the Internet and the Construction of Religious Identity

In recent years, the role of institutional religion in people’s lives has declined quite substantially (Lynch 2006: 481, Lövheim 2004: 63). Instead of attending services and prayer sessions in churches and mosques, people are turning to other means of having religious experiences, and new channels for making their religious identities manifest. In his article, Gordon Lynch lists three issues that are relevant for the study of religion and society. The first one is the above-mentioned decline of institutional religion. The second is the rise of a phenomenon of alternative spirituality that is distinct from religion. The third issue is the growing significance of media for religion and spirituality, or the “mediatization of religion.” It is in the intersection of these three issues that the study of popular music and religion becomes particularly important (2006: 481-482).

Lynch goes on to summarize the key scholarly works on the role of popular music in the construction of religious identity. The connection between popular music and religious identity has not been a popular research topic until recently, with scholars such as Robin Sylvan (2005), Christopher Partridge (2005) and Graham St John (2004) examining religious experiences and religious content in popular music, and attempting to connect them to the construction of religious identities. While Lynch finds their work important, he offers some critical feedback on the execution of their research and the conclusions they draw. Lynch finds Sylvan’s definition of religion too broad (which leads to hasty conclusions); criticizes Partridge’s account of the religious content of popular music for not taking into consideration the audience; and wonders why St John’s study of rave audiences’ religious experiences does not go on to explain how these experiences are used in the construction of religious identity. (Lynch 2006: 482-484). To complement these shortcomings, Lynch suggests that we turn to Tia De Nora’s work (2000) in the field of music sociology. Lynch highlights De Nora’s argument of music as a tool for managing one’s identity, environment and emotional state, and her conclusion that people formulate musical meanings in the interplay of memories, musical aesthetics, and the environment and circumstances in which the music is heard (Lynch 2006: 486).

In her article on constructing religious identities online, Mia Lövheim argues that, while the construction of identity is based on the interaction between one’s presentation of self and the feedback one receives for it, it is also influenced by the medium of communication one uses for this interaction (2004: 60). Her other main point is that one can not construct an identity based entirely on online interaction, but that one’s offline experiences play an integral part in it as well. The third important thing to bring up from this article is the relationship of religion and popular media. Lövheim (2004: 64) cites Lynn Schofield Clark’s (2003) conclusion that young people have to negotiate between the different meanings of religious symbols communicated by popular media and organized religion.

In his articles on the “transnational Christian metal scene”, Marcus Moberg (2007, 2008) examines how relatively marginal local Christian metal scenes in Northern Europe, the United States and South America have come together on the internet to form a transnational scene that transgresses the geographical boundaries that would have kept these scenes apart in the past. Moberg chooses to use the term ‘scene’ instead of ‘subculture’ because of its suitability for examining temporal and spatial relations and circumstances within the consumption and production of popular music (Kahn-Harris 2007, in Moberg 2008: 82), and because it draws attention to the interconnectedness of different aspects of popular music culture (such as fandom, the popular music industry etc.). Moberg defines scene as something that “is formed when a number of people in a certain place, with a shared passion for a particular kind of music, come together and develop a vide [sic] range of other practices, discourses, aesthetics and styles in relation to that particular form of music.” His aim is to use the concept of scene to illustrate the local, national and transnational dimensions within Christian metal. (Moberg 2008: 83).

Moberg (2007) examines the construction of alternative Christian identities in the context of the transnational Christian metal scene. The processes involved in the construction of identity require a scene (such as the church) (Dyrendal 2008: 68), but with Christian metal being a relatively marginal scene, there is a need to look outside the box to find a channel for the self presentation discussed by Lövheim (2004). Moberg identifies four central discourses that are central in the Christian metal scene.

The Christian metal scene is seen as “(1.) an alternative form of religious expression and identity, (2.) a legitimate form of religious expression, (3.) an effective means of evangelism and fighting and standing up for the Christian faith, and, (4.) a positive alternative to secular metal.” (Moberg 2007: 424-425). The scene has brought together people from different social, ideological and religious backgrounds, and, while these differences raise some debates among members, the scene is viewed as a shared space where Christians with different backgrounds can “shape an alternative form of religious expression and Christian identity.” The internet has facilitated the spreading of these discourses, and this has led to an independent “scenic infrastructure” which consists of record companies, fanzines, magazines, distribution channels, message boards and festivals. (ibid: 428-429) Fans of Christian metal tend to feel alienated from their churches because of their habitus and musical preference and the imagery and rhetoric connected to it (ibid: 429). The church’s attitude against metal is another reason. Luhr argues that Christian musicians, as well as the people who rally against metal, believe music can be used to influence audience behaviour and attitudes, and that, using the theatrics and imagery in addition to the musical aesthetic of secular metal, they can reach people more easily. On the other hand, critics among the Christian community are worried that by turning to these means of evangelizing, the musicians will corrupt their own values and morals. (Luhr 2005: 106). Thus, it can be argued, that turning to the internet to create networks of likeminded people, such as in the case of Moberg’s Christian metal scene, is a way of reinforcing one’s own religious identity without being condemned or judged by authority figures – an ideology that both secular and Christian metal fans would agree with.

Concluding Remarks

In today’s world of highly independent and individual religions and spiritualities, popular music and the internet are important tools in identity construction. Clark (2006: 476) argues that music has become a vehicle for having religious experiences that may not normally be available to people. Based on what I have read from Moberg’s (2007) and Lövheim’s (2004) work on identity construction, I think the same can be said about the internet. I agree with Lynch (2006) in that more research needs to be conducted on the relationship of religion, identity and popular music, but I would argue that the role of the internet and online identities can not be excluded. As Clark (2006: 476) puts it, “people now have transnational experiences and identities”, which Moberg has confirmed in his work. The music industry has become increasingly global because of the internet. And with the introduction of small and cheap portable music devices, music has become a more intimate and immediate part of people’s everyday lives – in a sense it has occupied the void left behind by the decline of institutional religion.

Whether the music people use to construct their identities is produced in a religious framework or not does not matter in the end. The experiences people get from music are deeply personal and individual, and it is up to the individual to choose which genre of music he or she likes, and whether the experiences can be described as religious or spiritual or not. What matters is that people can find other individuals to relate to, in order to get the feedback they need for identity construction. It is in this respect that we need to recognize the internet as the invaluable tool that it is.

Primary Academic References
Cataldo, J (2005): Popular Music on Christianity in the United States: Christianity’s Failure to Love. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Vol. IX, Spring ‘05:
Clark, LS (2006): Introduction to a Forum on Religion, Popular Music, and Globalization. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Vol. 45, Issue 4. Pp. 475-479.
Dyrendal, A (2008): Devilish Consumption: Popular Culture in Satanic Socialization. Numen, Vol. 55, No. 1. Pp. 68-98.
Luhr, E (2005): Metal Missionaries to the Nation: Christian Heavy Metal Music, "Family Values," and Youth Culture, 1984-1994. American Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 1. Pp. 103-128
Lynch, G (2006): The Role of Popular Music in the Construction of Alternative Spiritual Identities and Ideologies. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Vol. 45, Issue 4. Pp. 481-488.
Lövheim, M (2004): Young People, Religious Identity and the Internet. Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. New York, Routledge. Pp. 59-73.
Moberg, M (2007): The Transnational Christian Metal Scene Expressing Alternative Christian Identity through a Form of Popular Music. Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköpings universitet:
Moberg, M (2008): The Internet and the Construction of a Transnational Christian Metal Music Scene. Culture and Religion. Vol. 9, Issue 1. Pp. 81-99.
Stiles, J (2005): Contemporary Christian Music: Public Relations amid Scandal. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Vol. XI: Fall ’05:

Secondary Academic References
Clark, LS (2003) From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural. New York. Oxford University Press.
De Nora, T (2000): Music in Everyday Life. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
Kahn-Harris, K (2007): Extreme metal. Music and Culture on the Edge. Oxford. Berg.
Partridge, C (2005a): The Re-Enchantment of the West (vol. 1): Understanding Popular Culture. London. Continuum.
Partridge, C (2005b): The Re-Enchantment of the West (vol. 2): Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture. London. Continuum.
St John, G (ed.) (2004): Rave Culture and Religion. London. Routledge.
Sylvan, R (2005): Traces of the Spirit: The Religious Dimension of Popular Music. New York. New York University Press.

Film and Indigeneity

RELN2011 Research Essay – ‘Film and Indigeneity’
By Michael Curd

In 2000, art-house director Rolf de Heer was approached by Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil to help write and direct a film about his people – the Ramingining people of North Eastern Arnhem Land. What resulted was the film ‘Ten Canoes’, a Dreamtime story of “doomed love, kidnapping, sorcery, bungling misadventures and ill-directed revenge.” (Starrs, D.B. (2007) (online)) The cross-cultural collaboration between Rolf de Heer and the Ramingining people gave birth to a film which gives meaning to both indigenous and non-indigenous people. Through the partnership of these two forces, Balanda (non-indigenous) director Rolf de Heer was able to act as a tool for the marginalised people of Ramingining to present their story to a worldwide audience. To the non-indigenous, ‘Ten Canoes’ provides an insight into the cultural differences of the indigenous Australians, and to the Aborigines, it is a recognition of the memories of the traditions, meanings and way of life. The cross-cultural collaboration between de Heer and the Ramingining people can also be seen as a symbol of the reconciliation between the Balanda and indigenous Australians in a national sense, as both groups continue to right the wrongs of the past. ‘Ten Canoes’ counters the hegemonic view of indigenous Australians, showing them as powerful, as opposed to repressed and disadvantaged. In recent times, many indigenous Australians have begun to take control of not only their own lives and communities, but have actively led the charge to create awareness of Australia’s indigenous culture to Australia and beyond, dispelling the negative connotations, and emancipating their people in a bid for equality.

Italian philosopher Antonia Gramsci formulated the most widely acknowledged concept of ‘hegemony’, a term commonly recognised in the problem of the marginalisation of indigenous Australians. Gramsci regards hegemony as “a form of control exercised by a dominant class.” (Postcolonial studies at Emory (2008) (online)) Hegemony is thus evident in the “borders, boundaries, edges and complex relations within and between indigenous and non-indigenous territories in Australia.” (Howitt, R. (2002) pg. 233) In the article, ‘The Authentic Aboriginal Voice in Rolf de Heer’s ‘Ten Canoes’’, author D. Bruno Starrs notes that according to the dominant perspective of the Australian media, indigenous Australians are “passive victims of colonial aggression… [with] problems of substance abuse, domestic violence, unemployment, and reduced life expectancy.” (Starrs, D.B. (2007) (online)) This hegemonic view of indigenous Australians has not come about without evidence. In October 2008, it has been reported that there has been “a sharp rise in petrol-sniffing in Aboriginal communities.” (Medindia (2008) (online)) Furthermore, Australian officials reported that “Aboriginal children as young as five have developed an addiction.” (Medindia (2008) (online)) Petrol sniffing amongst Aboriginal communities is seen as an opportunity for an escape from the reality of poverty and community struggles. However, as stated by author D. Bruno Starrs, “one must not assume they have always been that way – or will always be so.” (Starrs, D.B. (2007) (online)) Thus, the film ‘Ten Canoes’ acts as a counter-hegemonic view of the Aboriginal community in Australia, not ignoring the present situation of indigenous communities, but acting as a memory and a contribution to the amplification of the marginalised voice of Australian Aborigines.

The key to the success of ‘Ten Canoes’ was the intercultural fusion between white Australian director Rolf de Heer and the indigenous Ramingining people in creating a film that enabled the Aboriginal community to reflect upon their spiritual connection to the land. Moreover, the film gave them an opportunity to tell the story of their past to a worldwide audience, simultaneously privileging the Aboriginal culture of the present. Author Therese Davis sees de Heer’s role in ‘Ten Canoes’ as a twofold process; “he is both an auteur…and an artisan, a skilled craftsman at the service of the Yolngu people who…very much wanted him to help them to make a film that would show a wider audience that their culture, their past, is ‘of value’.” (Davis, T. (2007) pg. 7) Rolf de Heer sees his role in the production of the film in a similar light, explaining to TIME Pacific journalist Michael Fitzgerald; “They’re telling the story, largely, and I’m the mechanism by which they can.” (Rolf de Heer in Starrs, D.B. (2007) (online)) It is thus evident that while ‘Ten Canoes’ is seen as a cross-cultural piece of film, it is the Ramingining people who are telling the story, with de Heer acting as a tool by which they can use to distribute to a worldwide audience.

Both Rolf de Heer and the Ramingining people of North Eastern Arnhem Land had to pinpoint the way in which the film was to be produced in order to achieve the goals of reclaiming the memories of the Ramingining people’s past for present and future generations; and to counter the hegemonic view of indigenous Australians as ‘troubled’. In an interview with indie movie website ‘indieWIRE’, ‘Ten Canoes’ director Rolf de Heer stated that one of the primary goals of his approach to the film was to “do everything to make [the production] a true collaboration. What [everyone] wanted was a film that they could show their children and say, ‘this is where you come from.’ But it was also to be a film that could play around the world so that people could understand something of Aboriginal culture and recognize it, value it.” (Rolf de Heer in indieWIRE (2007) (online)) ‘Ten Canoes’ has been highly praised in its successful cross-cultural collaboration between Balanda and indigenous Australians. De Heer made sure that in order to achieve this, he made sure the Ramingining people had much input in the retelling of their ancestral fable. An example of this is in the ‘Ten Canoes Agreement’, a legal contract between the film’s producers and the Ramingining people. As noted by author Therese Davis, the agreement was formulated in order to respect the property and moral rights of the Ramingining people. Moreover, “unlike most films in which producers have rights of ownership for all materials used in a film…the Ten Canoes Agreement recognizes the Ramingining community’s property rights for all artefacts and sets made for and used in this film.” (Davis, T. (2007) pg. 6-7) Indigenous Australians are noted to be spiritually attached to places and the land to which their ancestors as well as they belong to. Thus, through the Ten Canoes Agreement contract, the non-indigenous producers of ‘Ten Canoes’ are seen as actively privileging the Ramingining people’s values and beliefs.

More steps were taken to ensure that the retelling of the Aborigine’s Dreamtime story was produced with respect, valuing and upholding the Ramingining people’s cultural traditions. Author D. Bruno Starrs notes that because the movie was spoken in Ganalbingu (the Aboriginal language spoken by the Ramingining people), international distributors of the film requested a dubbed version. However, because the actors in ‘Ten Canoes’ didn’t give permission, director and producer Rolf de Heer declined the request, thus preserving the Ramingining people’s “cultural desire to have their language heard and known.” (Starrs, D.B. (2007) (online)) However, Rolf de Heer came across the challenge of the language difference during the filming of ‘Ten Canoes’, in which there was much room for miscommunication and misunderstanding. Rolf de Heer states “the biggest challenges were language because there is no one who speaks both Ganalbingu and English fluently.” (Rolf de Heer in indieWIRE, (2007) (online)) Nevertheless, through the privileging of the Ganalbingu dialogue, using the English narration of Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil using his indigenous accent in the film, and incorporating the Aboriginal storytelling narration style of ‘cascading repetition’, de Heer further elevates the status of the Aboriginal culture.

Many indigenous people that worked on ‘Ten Canoes’ and were directly involved in the cross-cultural collaboration praised Rolf de Heer for successfully producing a film that reflected the Ramingining people’s culture. Indigenous actor David Gulpilil, who narrated ‘Ten Canoes’ stated that the film achieved what it aimed to do; to create awareness for a worldwide audience, and to educate their own people (the Ramingining) who no longer are aware of the significance of their tribe’s stories and traditions. In an interview with film critic David Stratton, Gulpilil states, “this film will go to every young person who want to see it, not only black fellas but the European kids…and the young one that growing up and they going to high schools and universities…because this is something that has never been told and never been made and never been shown.” (David Gulpilil in At the Movies, (2007) (online)) Frances Djulibinj, who also participated in ‘Ten Canoes’, saw the film as a response to the urgent need to revive the memory of the Ramingining culture. Djulibinj states; “Everything is changing; everything is going, going, gone now. The only thing the children know is some ceremony…they not even normal kids anymore. Maybe they gonna keep this film with them so they can put it in their head.” (Frances Djulibinj in Davis, T. (2007) pg. 12) While ‘Ten Canoes’ can be viewed as a film giving an amplified voice to the indigenous communities in Australia through the representations of Aborigines as strong and powerful owners of the Australian land, the film also aims at preserving a memory of life for a culture who sees their traditions as rapidly vanishing with each new generation.

In following with the interest of the Aboriginal culture caused by the popularity of ‘Ten Canoes’, the Ramingining people have moved to the internet in another opportunity to generate awareness. Moreover, indigenous Australians have begun to reach out in different fields of work, media and education to inform non-indigenous Australians, either explicitly or implicitly, about their history and their culture. As a way of further sharing the “stories and the culture, past and present, of the Yolngu people of the Ramingining community,” (CG Publicity (2008) (online)) the Ramingining people initiated the website ’12 Canoes’ ( As stated in the article ‘Thousands paddle through’, the website has had visitors from “128 countries…including Australia, the US, Canada, Germany…Uzbekistan, Uganda, Greenland, the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, Iran and Kuwait.” (CG Publicity (2008) (online)) Twelve Canoes describes the reasoning for the site’s creation, stating;
“…we have history and culture here [in Ramingining], that our ancestors have been growing for more than forty thousand years. They passed that culture on from generation to generation. Now it’s our turn to pass it on, not just to the next generation, but to people everywhere, all over the world. That’s because our way of life is changing fast now, and what you can see on this website is for every generation to remember and keep our culture alive.” (Twelve Canoes (2008) (online))
It is thus evident that the Twelve Canoes website, similar to ‘Ten Canoes’, is attempting to preserve the memory of the life, the history and the culture of the Yolngu people through generating awareness through a worldwide means of communication.

In more local terms, amongst public schools in Queensland throughout 2008, a workshop entitled ‘The Big Picture’ has been initiated; an interactive experience for primary school students run by Indigenous Australians. It gives students an opportunity to “explore an Indigenous perspective of Australian history…expand…[their] knowledge and understanding of Indigenous cultures, explore attitudes, beliefs, facts and myths…[and] policies and Acts that impacted on Indigenous cultures.” (Education Queensland (2008) (online)). A new Australian television program, ‘First Australians’ also gives Australians an opportunity to become educated on the truth of the indigenous history in Australia. One of the interviewees in the documentary notes the current change in perception between non-indigenous and indigenous Australians, noting, “There’s this very curious and very touching attempt to come together and comprehend.” (Unknown in SBS (2008) (online)) In yet another example of countering the hegemonic view of Australian society, Indigenous former athlete Nova Peris produced a calendar in 2007 featuring fourteen indigenous women posing for the first mainstream all-indigenous swimsuit calendar. Peris’ primary goal for the project was to show Aboriginal women as they really are, dispelling the negative connotations from the media. Shannon McGuire, one of the models for the calendar, spoke out about her frustration of the stereotyping and othering of indigenous Australians by the media, saying, “They don’t see the beauty in the culture because everything in the media is so negative. All you’ve got to do is take a look.” (Shannon McGuire in Gibson, J. (2007) (online)) Through creating awareness in primary schools as well as print media and national television, it is evident that indigenous Australians are actively voicing their pride and respect for their traditions, values and beliefs, and are countering the hegemonic view of Aborigines as a ‘marginalised group’.

While the Australian media may still be presenting a hegemonic view of ‘repressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ Aborigines, there is evidence that since the change of the federal government, white Australians are voicing their concerns over the unfair treatment of indigenous Australians, and are actively finding ways to resolve the wrongdoings of the past. On 13th February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd read an apology addressed to the indigenous community in regard to the mistreatment of the Aborigines linked with the stolen generation, reciting, “The time has truly come…for all Australians, those who are indigenous and those who are not to come together, truly reconcile and together build a truly great nation.” (Kevin Rudd in Sydney Morning Herald (2008) (online)) Since the apology, the Australian government has given back the iconic Devil’s Marbles landmark to traditional Aboriginal landowners. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin echoed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s call for action, stating, “(Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) said that we must deal with the unfinished business of the nation…These people have fought for years to protect this place…And, I sincerely hope that these hand-backs will provide a sense of peace of relief.” (Jenny Macklin in The Age Online (2008) (online)) On 28th October 2008, Governor-General Quentin Bryce expressed her disapproval over the continuing disparity between white Australians and indigenous people in regards to health care and work opportunity, and plans to “provide an ear and a voice for indigenous Australians.” (Lunn, S. (2008) (online)) Bryce sees her role as a representative voice as well as a listening ear for Aboriginal communities across Australia in helping to combat inequality and to fully reconcile. Therefore, it is evident that along with numerous indigenous activists, white Australians are also assisting in vanquishing the hegemonic view of ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troublesome’ and ‘repressed’ Aborigines, by righting the wrongs of the past, and, recalling upon the memories of the past in order to move forward into the future.

In conclusion, Rolf de Heer’s cross-cultural collaboration proves to be not only a representation of a Balanda director and the Ramingining people of North Eastern Arnhem Land working together to counter the hegemonic world view of Australian Aborigines as ‘troubled’, and to generate awareness to present and future generations of indigenes about their ancestry. The making of ‘Ten Canoes’ is a living symbol of the cross-cultural collaboration between indigenous Australians and non-indigenous Australians in a broader sense. ‘Ten Canoes’ establishes the need to tell a Dreamtime story of a rapidly diminishing culture and tradition, in order to hold on to the values and beliefs for future generations. Similarly in the wider Australian community, indigenous Australians are empowered to share their history and their pride with the rest of Australia, through activities such as primary school workshops, a television program, and even swimsuit calendars. In the making of ‘Ten Canoes’, director Rolf de Heer saw his role as a mechanism by which the Yolngu people could use to recreate their story. De Heer states that while there were issues of misunderstanding between cultures, once these barriers were broken, then true collaboration was able to come about, and goals were achieved. This is a living symbol of the way in which the present Australian Government has now embraced the notion of moving forward, and although there have been troubles along the way, through working through the misunderstandings, reconciliation, equality and recognition can be achieved.

At The Movies, ‘Ten Canoes Interview’ [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
CG Publicity, 2008, ‘Thousands paddle through’, eBroadcast, 8 October [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
Davis, T. 2007, ‘Remembering our ancestors: cross-cultural collaboration and the mediation of Aboriginal culture and history in Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer, 2006)’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, 1, 1, pg. 5-14
Education Queensland, ‘The Big Picture’ [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
Gibson, J. 2007, ‘Calendar a role model for Aboriginal girls’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
Howitt, R. 2002, ‘Frontiers, Borders, Edges: Liminal Challenges to the Hegemony of Exclusion’, Australian Geographical Studies, 39, 2, pg. 233-245
indieWIRE, 2007, ‘indieWIRE INTERVIEW – “Ten Canoes” co-Director Rolf de Heer’, 3 June [online]. Available:
Lunn, S. 2008, ‘Quentin Bryce vows to give voice to indigenous people’, The Australian, 28 October [online]. Available:,24897,24565080-601,00.html [28.10.08]
Medindia, 2008, ‘Petrol-sniffing by Australian Aborigines Increasing’,, 28 October [online]. Available:
Postcolonial studies at Emory, ‘Hegemony in Antonio Gramsci’ [online]. Available:
SBS, ‘First Australians’ [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
Starrs, D.B. 2007, ‘The Authentic Aboriginal Voice in Rolf de Heer’s ‘Ten Canoes’, Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 7, 3 [online]. Available: [15.10.08]
Sydney Morning Herald Online, 2008, ‘Kevin Rudd says sorry’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
The Age Online, 2008, ‘Aborigines handed back Devil’s Marbles’, The Age, 28 October [online]. Available: [28.10.08]
Twelve Canoes [online]. Available: [28.10.08]