‘Culture’ is a unique concept in that not only does it define society, but it is also defined by society. It is a myriad of multifaceted institutions, industries, cuisines, languages, accents, dress and morals… but it cannot be omnipresent in any nation wholly. Culture chops and changes based on heritage, education, political standing and in Australian, even by postcode. So are we being cheated by the film industry, one of the very pioneers of Australian culture, when majority of on screen attention pays homage to a very stereotyped, colonial idealisation of Aussie culture? Or should we just take what we can get, and appreciate that any attention is good attention?
Australia is renowned and even revered for its multiculturalism, this aspect often being a focus for tourism and advertising. As Sunrise Host David Koch explained, as of 2012 almost a quarter of the Australian population were born overseas. Clearly, over the last few decades there has been a serious shift in Australian culture as society has largely transformed into a melting pot. As cinema is one of the main storytellers for Australian culture it should surely follow suite. In fact according to Screen Australia (2011) 41% of respondents who were surveyed about Aussie cinema agreed the most important benefits of the industry were to do with preserving and educating about about Australian culture. Sadly, the film industry apparently did not get the memo as it continues to rely on iconography provided by the bush and the outback, which only work to “… [reinforce] a mythology based on the virtues of mateship, sport, physical labor, and egalitarianism” (Film Reference, 2016).
How do we, on one hand, have images and events like this:
Australian cinema often ignores the multicultural narrative altogether; films are still dominated by true blue Aussie blokes or suburbia stories. Casting is appallingly colour blind – lead roles are dominated by white skin, with only taxi drivers or criminals left to be played by black or brown actors (George 2015). The current generation of Australian producers are under the impression the local audience are bogans who love to see their boganness represented on screen (‘Crocodile Dundee’, anybody?) – despite continual lack of support for Australian films suggesting otherwise (The Age, 2012).
As O’Regan (1996) explains, Australian cinema still romanticises heroic individualism, idolising white straight couples and the promotion of isolated masculinity functioning in opposition to any kind of social structure (p. 100). This only further ingrains the misconception that all Australians live in the outback, wear wife beaters and ride kangaroos, stemming from the idea that being Australian means surviving and adapting to outback landscape (O’Regan 1996, p. 100). Take ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ for example, featuring white people in the desert; or ‘Red Dog’, featuring white people and a dog in the desert.
While it is still important for such stories to be told, they should not be the only stories receiving attention. There needs to be greater support for films willing to step outside the accepted Australian narrative and start writing a new chapter, one that includes the the plethora of other cultures and histories now present in everyday Australia. So while any attention paid to the film industry may be helpful, it is not necessarily good if it fails to move beyond a colonial representation of a 1950s Australian cultural landscape.
Film Reference 2016, Australian Film and Australian Culture, Film Reference, viewed 6 January 2016, < http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Academy-Awards-Crime-Films/Australia-AUSTRALIAN-FILM-AND-AUSTRALIAN-CULTURE.html>
George, S 2015, ‘Do Australian Movies Really Reflect Our Multiculturalism?’, SBS, 21 January, viewed 6 January, < http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/article/2015/01/21/do-australian-movies-really-reflect-our-multiculturalism>
Middlemost, R 2016, ‘Critical Regionalism vs. Regional Tourism: Representing Australian Culture’, lecture slides, BCM330, University of Wollongong, 4 January 2016.
Rattigan, N 1998, ‘Ethnicity and identity in the new Australian cinema’, Metro Education, no. 13, pp. 22-26
Screen Australia, 2011, Australian Screen Stories are Important to Australians, accessed 6 January 2016, < https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/austories_research.aspx >
The Age 2012, ‘The year of the cringe in Australian film’, Age, 29 December, viewed 6 January, < http://www.theage.com.au/it-pro/the-year-of-the-cringe-in-australian-film-20121229-2c0c1.html>
The Changing Face of Australia 2012, YouTube video, SunriseOn7, 21 June, viewed 6 February 2016, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHnCclol1LM>