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The Sapphires DVD Cover Controversy

by Kerensa Cadenas
August 5, 2013 2:00 PM
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The Sapphires

The Sapphires, which was released earlier this year, is about the true story of four indigenous women from Australia who are discovered by a talent scout and are sent to Vietnam to perform for the troops. It's a film, we loved because of its smart look at racial issues and feel good spirit. 

The film is set to be released on DVD in the U.S. tomorrow and the cover seems to have gotten a bizarre and racist makeover. O'Dowd, if you've seen the film, plays an important role but he is not the lead of the film. However, the U.S. cover places O'Dowd front and center on the cover--making it look as if he's a 60s pop star/sex symbol. The women are placed behind him as if they were his backup singers.

There has been some controversy since the DVD cover hit with people including both O'Dowd and the four women who inspired the film -- Naomi Mayers, Beverly Briggs, Lois Peeler and Laurel Robinson.  

They alongside Sol Bellear, chairman of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service wrote to the NAACP for their support.

As I'm sure you can appreciate, the treatment of people of colour in Australia mirrored much of the trauma to which people in the United States were subjected. That trauma - and much of that treatment - remains alive and well in Australia today, as I know it does in the United States. The US cover of the DVD completely misses this point, and in fact reinforces precisely the sort of bigotry that Naomi, Beverly, Lois and Laurel fought so hard against. We're hopeful that the NAACP - with its long and proud history of advocating strongly for the interests of people of colour - will add its significant voice to calls for the DVD cover to be changed.

On Twitter, O'Dowd called the cover "ridiculous, it's misleading, it's ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn't." With this move, Anchor Bay has silenced the story of a group of aboriginal women, both erasing the stories of strong women and completely whitewashing the important racial politics of the film--reinforcing exactly what these women fought for.

Sign the petition telling Anchor Bay to change the DVD cover. As of this morning, it has over 10,000 signatures.

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More: The Sapphires, Sexism, Racism, Deborah Mailman

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  • Nathan | August 12, 2013 11:00 PMReply

    Anytime the Bluray cover art gets more buzz than the actual plot or acting it's never a good omen.

  • boomslang | August 9, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    its a combo of both marketing ploy and racism ( in this case assuming people who'll actually buy the dvd would be caucasian ) . Frankly the blue backdrop isn't just washed out blue , the dark skinned actresses are mysteriously very fair skinned.

  • Tsarstepan | August 6, 2013 2:27 PMReply

    This issue behind this meh-ish DVD cover? In actuality, a molehill. How it's been perceived by decrying it as a controversy? Olympus Mons, Mars sized mountain. Clearly the people here and elsewhere who are crying bloody foul, don't have a clue how movies are marketed. Is this the worst thing to happen in the world? Heck no. Is this the worst thing to happen to this movie? I say that this film didn't get a large national theatrical run is far greater crime then this obvious marketing ploy to get more people to pick up and watch this small indie film.

  • Maamè | August 13, 2013 7:14 PM

    Shit White people say.

  • TeakLipstickFiend | August 6, 2013 3:12 PM

    It's not the worst thing, so let's say nothing! Because of course lots of little things don't add up to big things.

  • onyx | August 6, 2013 10:37 AMReply

    Sadly, this same tactic was done with the cover of The Help novel. In the US we got three little cutesy birds on the cover, while overseas there was a real life photo of two black maids with a young white child in the middle. The "birdie" cover was meant to dull the horror and brutality of segregation, in addition to the pages inside the book. Apparently this type of whitewashing is popular and a money maker, so I doubt if they'll quit anytime soon.

  • Memory | August 5, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    I was under the impression they put him front and center because he co-starred in the hit film Bridesmaids and is the lead in a popular series on HBO, therefore he is the only "household name" in the film. Not many people in the US have ever heard of the four actresses. I saw it as more of a money-grab than racism, but I cannot speak for those who came up with the strategy to market the DVD in that way. Yes, the cover is misleading and inappropriate, but this is not the first time films have been marketed like this. When Cannonball Run was released, the ads and posters in Hong Kong made it seem like Jackie Chan was star of the film, even though he is in it for about 5 minutes, because the marketers knew their audience would buy tickets to a film that featured a star they were familiar with. That is just one of the many examples of this being done.

  • Donella | August 12, 2013 10:04 PM

    Interesting how on the U.S. DVD, the women are not only relegated to the background, they are faded to nearly colorless shadows. The only name featured is O'Dowd's. The women have been erased, faded, and rendered invisible.

    Whereas on the worldwide DVD, Chris O'Dowd is allowed equal space and status to the women. His name is on the cover, and he is in full color.

    These pictures reveal much unpleasant about the U.S. marketplace.

  • livefrommayberry | August 9, 2013 7:50 PM

    @memory I am an American consumer and I have not a clue who that actor is. I even saw the movie, "Bridesmaids" to boot. So, I don't know how much of a household name he is...certainly no, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, or the "Hey, Girl" tumblr inspiration, Ryan Gosling. He has one of those forgettable faces, in my opinion, that looks vaguely familiar, but you can't quite place. Believe it or not, everyone does not get HBO -- especially since the economy starting tanking a few years ago. There is even a household austerity movement to "cut the cable" with people cobbling together services like HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, Netflix and others to reduce their monthly entertainment bill.

    The "marketing strategy" deployed in this case is one that most black people can tell you is one that we've seen over and over. And it is so, so tired. The reason why we aren't in a post-racial U.S.A. yet? Perhaps Hollywood is partially to blame because the only kind of racism most Americans are comfortable condemning is the hackneyed version of the semi-literate redneck, Archie Bunker, or the slow-moving Southern sheriff. Guess what? It's also this re-designed DVD cover overemphasizing the white male presence made to appeal to American tastes -- i.e. cultural comfort levels.

  • TeakLipstickFiend | August 6, 2013 3:15 PM

    It's clear why they would want to have him in a prominent position, but to relegate the female stars to a faded background? Have a look at the Australian DVD cover (which, thankfully, I have) - surely that could have had a minor tweak to it? The "its marketing" excuse is weak and tired.

  • JESSE LEE PETERSON | August 6, 2013 12:49 PM

    but i am under the impression obama is black
    therefore america are up their own ass
    high and mighty talking down to and arguing with people every chance they get
    racism is what people want it to be

  • Annette | August 5, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    typical, but there are still some (white) people to claim that we live in a post-racial society.
    WAKE UP World, White men are still screwing us over and they're not even close to stoppping

  • Chris | August 5, 2013 2:30 PMReply

    Sadly, it's just marketing. O'Dowd is much more recognizable to a worldwide audience than the 4 other actresses in the film, therefore they put him front and center.

    However, that's not to say racism begets and has implications surrounding this cover in more ways than one.

  • Alex | August 13, 2013 7:16 PM

    Nope he's known here in the UK but our cover isn't like this.

  • Donella | August 12, 2013 9:58 PM

    Not at all.

    The United States is the only market that whitewashed the indigenous women of color behind white male supremacy.

    Other markets, including Europe, kept the women--the title characters-- in front on the DVD cover.

    Also, Chris O'Dowd is not an international star to justify his character's visual four-color center domination over the leading women. He's had a supporting roles in Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids. That's about it.

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