If you’ve never heard of the Australian movie The Sapphires like most Americans, one look at the US DVD cover seems to explain the film pretty well: Chris O’Dowd played a white dude who, along with four black female back-up singers, took Australia by storm with lots of blue lighting and glitter.
Except that's not what the movie is about at all. That movie, thankfully, doesn’t actually exist.
The movie that does exist, however, is the one that is primarily about four Aboriginal female singers who, along with their white-dude manager (O’Dowd) travel to Vietnam in the ‘60s to sing for American troops. It’s a true story, and a heartwarming one at that.
So, why is the U.S. cover for the film suggesting that the movie actually stars white, male O’Dowd at front and center, with his co-stars, the actual leads of the film, all faded into the background, pale and dyed blue so you can't even see the color of their skin?
Furthermore, why did the U.S. cover even have to be changed at all, when the Australian cover featuring Chris O’Dowd in the background as he should be and the four stars—Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell—at the forefront. Sure, O'Dowd is the most recognizable name in the US thanks to Bridesmaids and Girls, but he's not the star of this movie, the women are. Anyone who says racism isn’t alive and well in America should take a long, hard look at this.
O’Dowd has already spoken out about the cover on his Twitter, calling it “ridiculous, it's misleading, it's ill-judged, insensitive and everything the film wasn't." He's right—the film has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and won numerous awards in both Australia and the US for how it deals with issues like sexism and racism, especially in the '60s. The real-life Sapphires, Naomi Mayers, Beverly Briggs, Lois Peeler, and Laurel Robinson also spoke out about the cover in a letter sent to the NAACP through the chairman of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, Sol Bellear:
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.
Mayers, who is also the chief executive of Redfern AMS, added: "[The cover is] disrespectful to the very talented young Aboriginal actors in the film, and it's disrespectful to us as a group...[it's] disrespectful to women of colour everywhere who have stood up against this sort of thing all their lives."
A petition calling for the cover to be changed has already garnered nearly 20,000 signatures in the few days since it was created, and only needs a little over 5,300 to reach its goal. Likely prompted by O'Dowd and the real-life Sapphires speaking out, U.S. distributor of The Sapphires, Anchor Bay Entertainment, has already apologized for the whitewashed cover, saying the company "regrets any unintentional upset" their blunder caused, and are considering "a redesign" for future shipments. The apology is great and all, but they're only considering? Like, after all this, they're not jumping to redesign this mess immediately? Yikes.