Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) “Three little girls. Snatched from their mothers' arms. Spirited 1,500 miles away. Denied their very identity. Forced to adapt to a strange new world. They will attempt the impossible. A daring escape. A run from the authorities. An epic journey across an unforgiving landscape that will test their very will to survive. Their only resources, tenacity, determination, ingenuity and each other. Their one hope, find the rabbit-proof fence that might just guide them home. A true story. ” (IMDB, Anonymous Review) This movie takes place in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. The movie is based on a true story that details how white people took Aborigines from their families and attempted to breed them into white people. The movie details the journey of three girls violently taken from their mothers and taken miles away to camps where they would be forced to conform to the white population. Race and white supremacy are prevalent themes, as well as the struggle for power. Through Rabbit Proof Fence one is able to see the first hand negative effects of social stratification and cultural imperialism in a society. Moreover, social stratification is the ranking of people in a society. In Rabbit Proof Fence one’s race plays a key role in their ranking. Race is a convenient cultural construction based on one’s skin type rather than phonotypical features. In the movie the whites are the highest ranking and the blacks are the lowest. Half-castes are considered a “third unwanted race”. I am someone who has reaped the benefits of taking over another’s culture as a stereotype. Until recently, I thought all Australians were tan and blonde. It never occurred to me that there were native people there first. Even watching this movie I was surprised to learn that there were still hunter and gathering societies in that country in the nineteenth century. “See that bird? That’s the spirit bird. He will always look after you. ” (Maud to Molly) The film puts a human face on the ‘Stolen Generation’, a phenomenon which characterized relations between the government and Aborigines in Australia for much of the 20th century. The girls were taken away to be trained as domestic servants at the Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth. This was consistent with official government assimilations’ policy of the time decreeing that ‘half caste’ children should be taken from their kin and their land, in order to be ‘given a chance’ , in other words, ‘made white. ’ Focusing on the escape of the three girls from Moore River in the 1930s, the film highlights the despair experienced by mothers whose children were taken by the government, and the terror and confusion of those children, snatched from familiar surroundings and forced to adapt to European ways. Led by fourteen year old Molly, the girls defy all odds to travel 1600 kilometers through unfamiliar territory to return to their land, their homes and families in North-Western Australia, with the authorities chasing them all the way. Figure 1: Gracie (Laura Monaghan) age 7, Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) age 9, and Molly (Everlyn Sampi) age 14 As a result of forced assimilation, by the late 1880s most aborigines had joined white rural and urban communities. Aboriginal people became economically marginalized and were exposed to new diseases. The consequence was massive depopulation and extinction for some aboriginal tribes. Land and property rights fueled an important civil rights movement in the 1970s. Aborigines spoke out for equal rights, and specifically for land rights for property that had been forcibly taken by British settlers. The Aboriginal Land Rights Act, passed in 1976, became instrumental in territories with tribal associations. The 1990s witnessed further rights milestones, including government legislation that returned a great degree of autonomy, and increased wages and welfare benefits to aboriginal people. Figure 2: Kenneth Branagh as A. O. Neville I am appalled that anyone would want to completely erase someone’s culture. The treatment of Aborigines should be equal to the treatment of the rest of Australian people. As a United States citizen, it is my belief that states, or countries, should be unified and treated as one by a single governing party. The treatment of these people brings back to mind the terror and confusion during the Holocaust. Although not as intense or extreme, it is certainly a similar situation where human beings are denied their personal rights of independence, mere existence, and happiness: “Aboriginal people should have the opportunity of living without any limit on the exercise of their Australian citizenship, and on the equal terms with all other Australians” (Howson, “Land Rights”, quoting minister, Paul Hasluck, on the movement by the Methodist church). Humans desire a sense of belonging and religion is a key factor in the pursuit of happiness. Regardless of what religion or beliefs, people must always have a sense of community which is founded in the nation as a whole. Figure 3: The girls being captured by a government official. I was not surprised, given the time this movie took place, that people were being put into camps based on their race. The Nazi’s were putting Jews into camps and had their own eugenics programs. During World War II, Asian Americans were put into camps in the United States; however, what did surprise me was how long the Aboriginals were being held and administered into camps. The movie said this took place up until the seventies and that Molly’s own children suffered as she had. It makes me wonder if there were any resistance movements by the aboriginals and how much the British played a role in their mistreatment. Globalization brought the British to colonize Australia and it was their culture that they tried to forcefully assimilate the Aborigines into. The disregard for another’s culture and the implementation of your culture over another’s is called cultural imperialism. In the movie the half-castes face socio-linguistic discrimination as they are forbidden from speaking their own language and are required to speak English. They are given a different diet then they had as foragers. Furthermore, they are taught to pray and go to the white settler’s church. Mr. Neville explains that the half-castes have the “benefit of everything our culture has to offer” by being in the settlements. The whites believe that the “natives must be helped” and that what they are doing is right and necessary. Figure 4: The Australian landscape. For the three girls, the fence was a symbol of hope, freedom, and security. “The implications for humans are not limited to physical health and well being, and available and uncontaminated air, water, food, but include psychological need and benefit considerations relating to a spectrum of developmental, competence fostering and care-eliciting experiences in natural environments, such as identity formation, restoration, recreation, connection, and inspiration. Equally, the perception and/or direct experience of environmental degradation and loss can lead to concern, anxiety, guilt, anger, helplessness, dread, and pessimism. ” (Reser) The girls become one with nature striving for survival as they take an epic journey back to Western Australia, travelling 1500 miles on foot with no food or water, and navigating only by following the fence that was built across the nation to stem an over-population of rabbits. In the movie, on the train ride to the camp, the girls are kept in cages like animals. I believe this excerpt from the Australian Psychological Society describes accurately how humans react to their environment. The physical landscape, or natural environment, plays a key role in the suffering of the young girls as they traveled miles striving for life. It is ironic that their lives are put to the test in their journey while their only objective was a chance at life. Figure 5: This picture depicts the rabbit-proof fence, the area the girls traveled for nine weeks on a 1500 mile journey. However, for the three girls the physical landscape pushed them forward. They looked to one another for strength and to them the rabbit proof fence was a guide as well as a symbol of hope. They were fighting their fears and proving their means of survival. -------------------------------------------- [ 1 ]. < http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0252444/plotsummary> [ 2 ]. Rabbit Proof Fence [ 3 ]. Reser, Joseph P. "Psychology and the Natural Environment: A Position Statement prepared for The Australian Psychological Society. " The Australian Psychological Society (2007): 4. All images taken from Google images.
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