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USA Distributor Of Aussie Hit 'The Sapphires' Faces Charges Of Racism, Sexism For Changing DVD Cover

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 6, 2013 12:14 PM
41 Comments
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So, here's the deal... I'm just not in the mood to get worked up over matters like this today, so I'll give you the goods, and you guys can debate/discuss if you'd like.

In short, Anchor Bay Entertainmentthe American distributor of the Australian film The Sapphires has put itself in a bit of a jam, and is having to apologize for the Stateside DVD cover of the film, which was altered dramatically from the Australian DVD cover of the film - a move that drew strong criticism of the company.

I think the images speak for themselves, as you can see below - the Australian version of the cover on the left; the USA version of the cover on the right. You can see why Anchor Bay was criticized for the move - one that has been labeled sexist and racist.

Anchor Bay Entertainment said in a statement that it "regrets any unintentional upset" caused by the DVD cover, which will be on USA store shelves today, adding that "new cover art is being considered for future replenishment orders.

The Weinstein Company acquired global distribution rights to the Australian film, after it screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and released it in theaters to strong box office.

The Sapphires 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 was been reimagined as a feature-length film.

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 Sapphires stars Chris O’Dowd, Aboriginal actress Deborah Mailman, pop singer Jessica MauboyShari SebbensMiranda Tapsell, and Tory Kittles.

It was a box off smash in Australia - the best opening for an Australian movie in almost two years at the time - and was rewarded by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.

Here are the 2 DVD covers side by side - again, the Australian version of the cover on the left; the USA version of the cover on the right.

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

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41 Comments

  • sam | September 27, 2013 10:18 PMReply

    Is it just me, or did Jess Mauboy get on the USA version twice and Mailman get totally bumped? Not just faded into blue, but faded into nothing!

  • Giovanni Torre | September 25, 2013 4:38 AMReply

    I'm Australian. Funnily enough I've met Deborah Mailman (she's great). Reading the article before seeing the two covers compared I didn't know what to expect - and when I saw them I could barely believe it. The four women are faded into blue, for goodness' sake, and their names cut out. If the US company wanted him front and centre they could have done it without almost erasing the other actors. Jesus wept.

    Having seen the film I'd say the five actors are the leads, with Deborah Mailman as the standout (though Mauboy, Sebbens and Tapsell are all really strong). The US cover is absurd. There's no case whatsoever for fading the four women into the background so one is left no choice but to conclude that sexism and racism played a part.

  • norah | August 25, 2013 2:51 AMReply

    I enjoyed the Sapphires. Did the manager in actuality marry one of the Sapphires?

  • CareyCarey | August 16, 2013 8:10 PMReply

    Sapphires is a great film! That's right, in spite of the white-washed cover, imo, this film is one of the best, if not the best I've seen this year.

    Great storylines, great acting, a love affair between Chris O’Dowd and one of the lead singers, family turmoil, racial tension, death & danger (Viet Nam war zone) and fantastic music/singing made this film an enjoyable experience.

  • ? | August 8, 2013 7:27 PMReply

    Eh.. more typical Hollywood racist bs.. what else is new.

  • why, terry | August 7, 2013 5:07 AMReply

    Speaking of DVD cover art injustices, anyone see that garbage To the Wonder cover? Completely misrepresents the film!

  • Gleeleeglooloo | August 7, 2013 1:53 AMReply

    I almost thought the poster on the left is the US version. I thought most movie goers like girls on the poster. Chris O'Dowd is not that popular yet in US. Maybe the movie targets gay people and women who may find Chris O'Dowd attractive?

  • Shannon | August 7, 2013 12:05 AMReply

    I'm pleasantly surprised that they (whoever created and greenlit the US cover) are rightfully being called out for this. Prior to reading this article (which is the first time I'm seeing the Australian cover), I saw the US ad for the film and had a head tilt/mental "head scratch" moment. Without any context, it makes no sense that a film called "The Sapphires," presumably about the four women in the background, would have a white man featured prominently and centered in the foreground. The only sliver of ground they have to stand on is the fact that Chris Dowd is something of a "name"/rising start in the States... but even so.

  • i<3funny | August 6, 2013 11:24 PMReply

    I think the USA cover looks like that because in the USA he's a star and the other women aren't. he has a show on HBO and has been in a number of films. compared to the others he's the headliner. It makes sense to make him the center of the ad.

  • Craig Ranapia | August 8, 2013 7:02 PM

    O'Dowd isn't the 'headliner' - he's actually a (very good) supporting player in a movie called 'The Sapphires' NOT 'The Guy From Bridesmaids and His Backing Smurfettes' for a reason. of an ensemble. And I keep hearing this defense, and it begs a BIG question. O'Dowd is a much bigger name in the United Kingdom so why didn't the UK distributors feel compelled to whitewash and blue filter the four non-white female leads into the background?

  • Jake | August 6, 2013 11:10 PMReply

    Tambay:

    Get a freakin' grip. I'm black and this 'racism' narrative we as black people have been espousing for the past several months has gotten downright pathetic and embarrassing. Look, I'm VERY aware that racism exists, but it's gotten to the point that people can't even flush a freakin' toilet without people screaming how prejudice that act is! FYI, the American film system is built around (GASP!) the STAR SYSTEM. What is the star system you ask? Basically, the film industry is a BUSINESS. Therefore, the goal is to sell as many products as possible. Since we are in the United States and this was a movie made in Australia, none of the principals are familiar to us...except for (GASP!) Mr Dowd. Whoever designed this cover obviously wanted to capitalize on his popularity (I guess) to sell as many DVD's, uploads, etc. as possible. In fact, he is the only recognizable actor on the cover. Hence, he was moved towards the front and the ladies toward the back. This act is really not new. If you've done your research, you'd realize that this happens all the time when A-list or even B-list celebrities do an independent feature. Heck, the person could simply walk across the frame for 5 seconds, but the fact that he/she is in the film is a major selling point. (DUH!) This has been a contentious issue for years! Do you remember the horror film SCREAM that came out in 1996? Which person was featured the most? Was it Neve Campbell? Courtney Cox? David Arquette? NO! It was Drew Barrymore, and she got killed in the first ten minutes!

    We really need to get off this prejudice kick that we as black people seem to be on lately. Personally, I think the case is fine. In fact, one of the singers is fair skinned. So we can't say that the producers were totally against people of darker skin tone. If we continue this pathetic tirade that we are being neglected all of the time, then we are just going to come off as aloof, disconnected, and totally unaware. We can do better than this. The only people who are crying racism have little to no knowlege of how the film industry works as a whole.

  • Donella | August 9, 2013 4:34 PM

    They don't even list the NAMES of the girls on the cover, just O'Dowd's. Very sad reflection of North America's white supremacy.

  • Craig Ranapia | August 8, 2013 10:30 PM

    Jake:

    Take you own advice and get a grip. Will Smith is a much bigger "star" than Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, but funny how they didn't get "brownwashed" from the publicity for MIB3. Please patronize me all you like, but it's funny how The Sapphires became the highest grossing local film of 2012 in Australia (a nation that has a LOT of racial issues, BTW) without white- and dick-washing indigenous women out of their own stories. The only thing that's pathetic here is Anchor Bay's apparent belief that Americans aren't only too racist and sexist to handle the sight of four black women on the front of a DVD, but so stupid they're not going to notice O'Dowd doesn't show up until about fifteen minutes into the show.

  • Donella | August 8, 2013 6:02 PM

    Well, Eddie Murphy WAS in a musical featuring a girl group of color--Dreamgirls.

    However, the distributor of Dreamgirls did not place Eddie Murphy front and center on the cover art. Murphy wasn't on the cover at all. Neither was Jamie Foxx.

    The Dreamgirls cover featured... the DREAMGIRLS, the title characters, front and center.

    It makes total sense that The Sapphires, the title characters, are expected to have full-color center status on a film that is supposed to be about THEM, not their white savior... and Chris O'Dowd is not that famous here.

    He had supporting roles in Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids. That's about it.

  • britgirlnz | August 6, 2013 11:36 PM

    keep drink the kool aid jake, here take a swig, because that rant came across as if you can't get it round your knucklehead brain that America is overtly and institutionally entrenched in racist ideology, that it felt out of all the countries this movie was released it need to change the cover to appease a white audience. Oh hold up Don Lemon is on the line for you.......

  • Jake | August 6, 2013 11:15 PM

    In conclusion, if Mr. Dowd's character was played by Eddy Murphy or even another accomplished African-American actor, I can safely assume that he/she would be in the same position on the case as Mr. Dowd.

  • JMac | August 6, 2013 11:08 PMReply

    The more things change . . . .

    Damn white people.

  • BritgirlNZ | August 8, 2013 10:46 AM

    Right so my not being from the states invalidates my opinion, when the plethora of evidence that supports the accusations leveled at the situation, the American film industries continual offense at whitewashing makes the reasons this was done glaringly obvious.

    Chris Dowd is a well know British star yet no UK distributors felt the women on the cover had to be relegated to the back, no other European countries aren't innocent no one was making that claim.

    Its insidious people like you that help perpetuate a culture in which when calling out racism or other isms the victims are in the wrong, you are just getting the tip of this.

    I am so over reading or hearing "oh shut up black people you moaning to much" apologist nonsense that logical debate can't take place when we deconstruct situations to show how history and social construct and injustice has helped play a part in which the way we consume our entertainment, media and damn daily lives.

    America is and is not unique in its race relations but seriously as a black person living in the western world a lot of my viewing and sometimes narratives of race conversations come from a black American perspective.

    It is because of the open dialogue that people have about race in the states which I believe helps strengthen how the rest of the black diaspora in Western societies talk about race, so if a black person feels it is unjust in America I damn well know why and when it helps in identifying it when it rears its ugly head else where in the Western / European world I take it on board. So shove that in your pipe and smoke it.

  • Jake | August 7, 2013 11:55 AM

    BRITGIRLNZ. Are you even from the States? If you aren't, you might need to keep your uneducated comments to yourself. Yes, the American social ladder is infused with racism, unfortunately, but I'm reading reports that places like England, France, and many other European countries aren't that innocent either when it comes to dealing with people with a darker hue. Do you even understand the STAR SYSTEM? Did you read my comment fully? Please inform yourself and learn about another country's business model before you speak.

  • Danny | August 6, 2013 10:22 PMReply

    This is very sad I just read an Australian article in the Sydney morning herald and their film editor actually agreed that the USA DVD cover is fine. This is so disappointing, this movie is about the four Australian women they should be front and center on the DVD not the white guy. I am glad people are calling out the BS of the USA distributor of the Sapphires.

  • britgirlnz | August 6, 2013 10:21 PMReply

    America the gift that just keeps giving smh

  • onyx | August 6, 2013 9:11 PMReply

    I hope it's okay to post this additional info, which was per another site on Indie Wire called Women in Hollywood:

    "O'Dowd called the cover 'ridiculous, it's misleading, it's ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn't. ' "

    There will probably be an update to this story by Tambay, especially since it appears the NAACP has been contacted by four of the original members in the group, according to an online Australian newspaper called the canberratimes.com.au (sorry, can't post the link because its coming up as spam) the title of the piece is "Sapphires protest 'racist' cover" by Saffron Howden

  • Jasher Scott | August 6, 2013 6:01 PMReply

    To be fair, the movie was white-washed even in the Aussie version. Chris O'Dowd's character was made up for the movie.

  • BluTopaz | August 7, 2013 12:43 PM

    Yep. Like the fictional lead White character in The Last Kings of Scotland. A pretend White man (who also got to shag Amin's wife while jungle drums beat in the background of course, while a pretend White female love interest was thrown in for good measure) was created to sell the true story of the madman who slaughtered countless black and brown people.

    It's incredible any POC believes this DVD cover is simply a marketing decision based on Dowd's "fame". I'm almost tempted to take a poll in my office right now and ask my White co-workers if they know him.

  • Tonton Michel | August 6, 2013 5:04 PMReply

    Can't sell a movie to white folks unless they are prominently featured. This is law.

  • CC | August 6, 2013 4:12 PMReply

    OH NO! Not another Five Heartbeats!

    But wait, who the hell is Chris O'Dowd? Seriously, I can only assume Nun is speaking for white folks 'cause I think most blacks would run to the movie if Eddie Kane Jr. was on the cover.

    "nights like this, I wish, rain drops would fall"

  • nun | August 6, 2013 2:43 PMReply

    I've gotta be the voice of dissent here. I can see why people might see this as racially motivated, but it looks like the US distributor was just trying to capitalize on Chris O'Dowd. Dude was in Bridesmaids, Girls, and other titles that folks will recognize. The actresses, on the other hand, are mostly popular overseas. It's the same reason Jessica Mauboy is front and center on the Aussie cover - because she's a big pop star over there. Americans just don't know the actresses as well as they do overseas (yet). As much as I love Deborah Mailman, I'd bet money that I'm the only one. I'm all for calling out racism where it exists, but this ain't it.

  • Craig Ranapia | August 8, 2013 7:09 PM

    Nun: As others have pointed out, Deborah Mailman isn't exactly a huge star in the UK (though I understand 'The Secret Life of Us' gathered a cult following) but the UK distributors didn't feel compelled to whitewash the publicity for either the cinema or DVD release there. Hell, a few minutes with Google will bring up the French and German cinema release posters, and I doubt 99% of people there have any idea who the hell Chris O'Dowd is either.

    YMMV, but it's hard not to draw the obvious conclusion about Anchor Bay's motives for white(blue)washing the four female non-white leads out of the publicity when, as as far as I can tell, nobody in any other market did.

  • Donella | August 8, 2013 5:50 PM

    I can see O'Dowd just fine BEHIND the title characters. making the Sapphires AVATAR blue and putting O'Dowd four-color center was a stupid move and caters to the basest marketing instincts.

  • CinemaPsycho | August 6, 2013 6:17 PM

    Going to have to agree with Nun, and I'm as liberal as they come. Chris O'Dowd is the only reason most Americans would even pick up a DVD of a movie that was BARELY EVEN RELEASED in the US. Most Americans have never even heard of this movie. So they're using "that guy from Bridesmaids" to try to sell the movie. Period. And have you noticed - the women ARE STILL ON THE COVER. You can still see them. They were not removed. No one is pretending they are not a large part of the movie. Come on, this "controversy" is ridiculous. How many of you are even going to buy a copy of this movie anyway? Or even rent it? Yeah, I thought so. Most Americans will skip over it at Wal-Mart and buy GI Joe anyway. Come on, get upset over something important, will you?

  • Onyx | August 6, 2013 5:19 PM

    "Generally book covers don't depend on actors/stars to sell books."

    The US is known for putting white characters on books even when the characters are those of color, so while you may believe this is simply about actors, there is a bigger picture here of historical exclusion for minorities, and not just African Americans.

    "That's usually the case with lit - readers are more cerebral and book jackets are designed to hook them by communicating an idea."

    I listed a link in my first post with examples. The only "idea" whitewashing a book cover or movie poster conveys is that the target audience is primarily white. Ursula Guinn's Earthsea is another example of the whitewashing of book covers. The practice is not limited to one genre. Historically, record albums had either white couples lounging on the beach or something other than the black artist who sang a hit song. In addition, songs were routinely re-recorded by white artists (Pat Boone re-did Little Richard and Fat's Domino's hits in the 50s, which was yet another example of whitewashing not being restricted to one entertainment genre).

    If anyone's interested, here's a very good ( and more recent) article on the practice at the YALSA The Hub "It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers" the article date is December 2012. I wasn't able to list it because the link put me over the spam quota on this site.

    Also, I'm female. And someone who recalls segregation. This is bigger than just this one movie poster. It's a practice that has gone on for far too many years.

  • Alex | August 6, 2013 4:22 PM

    Agreed - its more like they blurred out the people that they presumed the audience wouldn't care for and put O'Dowd at the forefront to capitalize; think they would have done the same if it was Eddie Murphy to be honest....in fact no one but Murphy would have made the cover. Oh snap - O'Dowd would actually appeal more to a white audience anyway...all those films listed, are films with predominantly white casts...
    I understand their marketing strategy, but the fact of the matter is US media assumes their audience is ignorant - even in the UK we'd get the Aussie version, for starters it's less tacky and the idea behind the first cover is a perfect embodiment of the stories premise. US media.

  • nun | August 6, 2013 3:58 PM

    @KALU you mean the fact that the US cover is colored SAPPHIRE? I'ma end this here, because I don't need to be made into an apologist, and we've all got better things to do. But suffice to say I'm saving my black outrage for serious injustice. Good day y'all.

  • Kalu | August 6, 2013 3:38 PM

    Maybe. But what's the reason for hiding/disguising the skin color of The Sapphires themselves? O'Dowd could have been pushed to the front, without making the women ambiguously bluish. Look at the UK cover on Amazon.co.uk.

  • Donella | August 6, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    If ever there were a doubt, and there are many doubters out there, this side-by-side comparison lays those doubts to rest.

  • nun | August 6, 2013 3:49 PM

    @ONYX nah sun, this is not the same thing. Generally book covers don't depend on actors/stars to sell books. Neither of The Help book covers have "actors" on them, so the cover becomes about the artwork, the text, and the message they're sending. That's usually the case with lit - readers are more cerebral and book jackets are designed to hook them by communicating an idea. So the racial implications with The Help cover are obvious. But not here. False equivalency dude.

  • onyx | August 6, 2013 3:32 PM

    Sorry Nun,

    I gotta disagree. The same thing happened with the cover of The Help (novel). In the US the publisher used three little cutesy birdies, but overseas they used a real photo of two black maids watching over a white toddler. Apparently the overseas cover would've landed The Help in the black section of the bookstores (those that were open in 2009). The three little birdies "helped" dull the horrors of segregation by appealing to those who knew little of just what blacks went through. http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/a-tale-of-two-covers/ Whooo hoo! Over 1 million views on my blog!!!! Thanks to all!!

  • MulletLove | August 6, 2013 12:37 PMReply

    Oh, the blatancy!!! If the damn film is about a group of soul-singing Aboriginal women, then why the cuss would the cover have to be changed to deflect from the fact that the film is about a group of soul-singing Aboriginal women? Why bother to distribute the darn thing in the first place here? Sorry, but as much as white people may wish to change facts, black people are responsible for much of the music we ALL cut our teeth to over the past 100 or so years, and that extends to other folks across the globe. "Whitewashing" that mess will not do anything to revise the history. And these muckers knew what the deal was when they did this. BS on their apology. Here's a tip: before doing stupid and having to save face when the backlash hits, don't do stupid, period. FFS...

  • Nathaniel Poe | August 6, 2013 2:37 PM

    "white people" Yes. All white people. Everywhere. All of them. ALL OF THEM! Didn't you know, Eddie Murphy had it right all along? It IS one giant, global conspiracy! :O
    [smh]

  • 1kid2luv | August 6, 2013 12:29 PMReply

    White people... *smh*

  • Tahir | August 6, 2013 12:21 PMReply

    Just won't let the Blacks win.

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