Monday, October 19, 2009

Filmic Representations of Indigeneity

by Christine Mulholland

Over the last 100 years, it is apparent that there has been avoidance of Aboriginal issues, resulting in a lack of a balanced representation of Indigenous Australia in the media (Krausz, 2003). However, as media, specifically broadcast television, has evolved and become more accessible over the years, so have the filmic representations of Aboriginal identity of what once was a completely one-sided narrative (Hartley, 2004).

The media has been used as a vehicle for defining culture and narrating nations, as John Hartley’s article ‘Television, Nation, and Indigenous Media’ discusses. It has opened the doors, giving individuals a taste and understanding of other people’s lives, such as that of the Indigenous Australia. However, many questions exist in terms of Aboriginal identity in terms of their national status and how to “narrate” their nation (Hartley, 2004). As Hartley mentions, rather than interacting with Indigenous people through “live, casual social contact at the supermarket checkout (2004:12),” non-Indigenous people have gained their representation through the media. The media has therefore been put under pressure in terms of content and organization in their narration in answering the questions and showing the spiritual connection of the Indigenous and the power of their story-telling, rather than false dichotomies (Hartley, 2004).

The Indigenous people became prolific media producers as a result of an obsession of Indigeneity. However, the Indigenous public sphere was mainly under the control of the non-Indigenous people, in which representations of Aboriginal identity were created through “figures of the imagination” of which would be accepted by non-Aboriginals, not necessarily Aboriginals themselves (Hartley, 2003; Rekhari, 2008). Rather than a story historically by the Indigenous people, Indigeneity was a story about them (Hartley, 2003).

However, as identified by Hartley and McKee, there are two domains in narrating Indigeneity—Indigeneity of law formation and Indigeneity of anomaly. Each domain needs the other to exist, telling the stories of the “we” community through anthropological and administrative work, as well as the stories of the “they” community of correction and protection. With only one domain, only one side of the narration is being told (Hartley, 2004).

In the 21st century, filmic representations of Aboriginal identity began to reinforce the continual process of change, as images of reconciliation pushed the boundaries of representing the relationship of Aboriginals and the white community (Krausz, 2003). The Indigenous ultimately reclaimed the screen to tell their stories through representations by their own peoples at the First Nations/First Features event in May 2005. Featuring films by Indigenous filmmakers around the world, audiences were able to see the cultural worlds of Indigenous nations through the filmmakers’ visions and dramatic storytelling (Dowell, 2006).

Yet, while the process of change continues, contemporary Indigeneity has yet to reach a level representation as the Aboriginal people of Australia remain to be a minority on the television screen (Rekhari, 2008). The question of an Indigenous nation remains to be unanswered. Therefore, in looking at mainstream media’s representation of Indigenous Australia, it must be acknowledged as to who is providing the representation. Is it that of a white man, retelling a story through a dramatic film, such as that of Rabbit Proof Fence? Is it a representation by the Indigenous peoples themselves, such as the film Atanarjuat which was written, produced, directed, and acted by the Inuit people? Or is it a film representing Indigeneity through a collaboration between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous, as in Ten Canoes? The representations of Indigeneity have changed, yet questions remain to exist in defining Australia as an Indigenous nation.

Works Consulted

Dowell, K, 2006. ‘Indigenous Media Gone Global: Strengthening Indigenous Identity On- and Offscreen at the First Nations\First Features Film Showcase’, American Anthropologist, 108, 2, 376-384.
Hartley J, 2004. ‘Television, Nation, and Indigenous Media’, Television & New Media, 5, 1, 7-25.
Krausz, P, 2003. ‘Screening Indigenous Australia – An Overview of Indigenous Australia on Film’, Australian Screen Education Online, 32, 90-95.
Rekhari, S, 2008. ‘The “Other” in Film: Exclusions of Aboriginal Identity from Australian Cinema’, Visual Anthropology, 21, 2, 125-135.

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