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Cannes 2012 - The Weinstein Company Acquires "The Sapphires" (Australia’s Answer To The Supremes)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
May 19, 2012 10:56 AM
8 Comments
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Screening out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival is an Australian musical drama titled The Sapphires, which is inspired by the real-life story of a soul singing quartet comprised of 4 Aborigine women (all sisters) who were the heroines of a play in which writer/director Wayne Blair was an actor in 2005.

Fast-forward 7 years later, and that experience has been reimagined as a feature-length film bowing on the grandest stage of all.

Branded as Australia’s answer to The Supremes, the film's full synopsis reads:

1968 was the year the planet went haywire. All around the globe, there were riots and revolution in the streets. There were hard drugs, soft drugs, free love and psychedelic music. There was the shock of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations. And dominating every other news story… There was Vietnam. For four gorgeous young women from a remote Aboriginal mission, 1968 was the year that changed their lives forever. Sisters Gail, Julie and Cynthia, together with their cousin Kay, are discovered by Dave, a down-on-his-luck Irish musician with attitude, a taste for Irish Whiskey and an ear for Soul Music. Dave steers the girls away from their Country & Western origins then flies them to the war-zones of South Vietnam, where they sing Soul Classics for the American Marines. On tour in the Mekong Delta, the girls sing up a storm, dodge bullets… And fall in love.

The Weinstein Company was apparently instantly sold on it, because the company announced that it had acquired global distribution rights to the Australian film, calling it a "feel-good" movie. 

And watching the trailer below, I can understand the label. The story is also undeniable familiar, even if specifics might differ - the evolution, lives, loves, ups and downs of a soul-singing group made up of young black women in the 1960s/1970s and the manipulative people around them.

Maybe Harvey and company see it as their very own Dreamgirls... or is it Sparkle... but originated in Australia. And oddly enough, like Dreamgirls, The Sapphires is based on a stage work as well.

I won't be surprised if Harvey is thinking Oscar with this one, with a fall release likely - although no specific date has been announced yet. It probably won't be seen as widely as the upcoming remake of Sparkle (to be released in August), but I think comparisons between the two will be inevitable, especially if released around the same time.

The Sapphires stars Chris O’Dowd, Aboriginal actress Deborah Mailman, pop singer Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell. It'll be released in Australia on August 9th.

Watch the trailer for the film below; and underneath you'll find an additional clip:

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8 Comments

  • Donella | May 24, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    Tambay, I ran across this quote signalling Weinstein's dismissive view of this project on Deadline.com which I think is unfortunate in terms of Oscar consideration: "At tonight’s party and concert for the film at the JW Marriott that followed a special screening, Weinstein told me he does not think the feel-good movie, a sort of Aboriginal Dreamgirls, is necessarily another Oscar contender for the company. He calls it an entertaining comedy-musical he hopes will draw good word of mouth and turn out to be a sleeper hit. He says the report was misleading and claims to have no Oscar ambitions anywhere near the level of The Artist, which (like Sapphires) was picked up right as Cannes kicked off and went on to win 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.

  • Orville | May 20, 2012 12:10 AMReply

    Australia reminds me of Canada because both countries are Commonwealth nations and both nations discriminate against Aboriginal peoples. In fact, Canada and Australia had the racist residential school system which removed Aboriginal children from their families and forced them to integrate into white Australia. Aboriginal people in Australia are fighting for their rights but there is still a long way to go. A few years ago the Australian government apologized to the Aboriginals for discriminating against them.

  • Deborah | May 19, 2012 11:23 PMReply

    In Australia, Aboriginal people are considered and refered to as
    "Blacks" and sometimes even as "Coloureds". Aborigines are the
    diaspora, the original people of Australia, but are still treated as
    second-class citizens. It can be compared with how Indian Nations
    are still being treated here in America. "Entertain us, Fight for us,
    Win medals and prizes for us, then go back to your reservation".

  • Donella | May 23, 2012 11:18 AM

    In the movie Once Were Warriors, the indigenous New Zealanders were referred to as Black. And I believe they referred to themselves that way. Would be nice to see faces other than that of Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe from that part of the world on screen.

  • Peggy | May 19, 2012 10:11 PMReply

    They're black in the sense that they have dark skin and were victims of white racism and classicism. Just like black Americans.

    However, if you were to refer to them as "black" on a US website or a website where the majority of readers are black Americans, you might cause some confusion.

    I guess it comes down to what they would be called in Australia. If they are called "black" there, then it's fine to call them black elsewhere.

    The question that may be raised here is that there is the connection with black American music. To call them "black" in that instance, may cause a bit more discussion. Pro or Against.

  • Ava | May 19, 2012 5:01 PMReply

    I will keep this one on my radar. Seems like more of a mixture of The Commitments and Dreamgirls but I can't judge (and shouldn't really) from a trailer. The Weinstein Co. loves adaptations as The King's Speech was also adapted from a play, so not surprised by going back to the well. And like you, Accidentalvisitor, I also hope that the focus is indeed on the young women's story and not too much the manager. I'm intrigued by the young ladies' stories.

  • AccidentalVisitor | May 19, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    Read about this movie a few months ago. It sounded interesting. Wow. Weinstein picked it up? That's pretty impressive. I do worry though that it is more about O'Dowd's character than it is about women whom the film is titled. We'll see. The Euros and the Aussies seem to do these type of feel-good music movies better than the Yanks these days. Need to keep an eye out for it. Waiting for the typical folks on this site to chime in about these women not "really being black".

  • BluTopaz | May 19, 2012 9:53 PM

    Agreed on all points. This looks like a real fun movie, but if it's all about the White dude teaching these beautiful, feisty young women how to find their roots.... And ditto on the inevitable peanut gallery complaints.

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