Did you know the U.S. Army hired entertainers for the troops during the Vietnam War? Did you know one such group of singers – The Sapphires – hailed from Aboriginal lands in Australia? A 2012 film treats us to their journey from rural country western singers to glamorous 60’s soul performers in an extremely dangerous locale. They pick up a hard boozing keyboardist (Chris O’Dowd – if he looks familiar he guest starred on HBO’s Girls) as a manager along the way.
What I found intensely fascinating about this film was the treatment of Aboriginal Australians in the 1960s. Their struggles and the prejudices they faced are very similar to those endured by Black Americans and Native American Indians; in fact the American civil rights movement provides somewhat of a backdrop during the film. Issues such as “passing,” seizure of native children for education in white schools, denial of equal opportunities and so forth are illustrated. Interestingly enough, throughout the film The Sapphires and their family members refer to themselves as black and see solidarity with several of the Black American soldiers they encounter in Vietnam.
After watching the film I reached out to my grandfather – a retired Army officer who did two tours in Vietnam – to get his thoughts on the group. He immediately remembered them but lamented he never got to see them perform, as he was stationed in an area they didn’t visit. I promised to send him the DVD, though I’m waiting for new covers to be released after a bit of U.S. racism flared up. Since many of the ladies here are interested in possibly relocating to Australia or New Zealand, I definitely recommend checking out The Sapphires for exposure to some of the history in the area (as well as for the fantastic 60’s music). More information on the film can be found here.